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Circe / (by Madeline Miller, 2018) -

Circe /  (by Madeline Miller, 2018) -

Circe / (by Madeline Miller, 2018) -

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Circe / (by Madeline Miller, 2018) -
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2018
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Madeline Miller
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Perdita Weeks
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upper-intermediate
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12:08:36
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Circe / :

.doc (Word) madeline_miller_-_circe.doc [1.33 Mb] (c: 6) .
.pdf madeline_miller_-_circe.pdf [1.97 Mb] (c: 10) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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Chapter One WHEN I WAS BORN, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride. My mother was one of them, a naiad, guardian of fountains and streams. She caught my fathers eye when he came to visit the halls of her own father, Oceanos. Helios and Oceanos were often at each others tables in those days. They were cousins, and equal in age, though they did not look it. My father glowed bright as just-forged bronze, while Oceanos had been born with rheumy eyes and a white beard to his lap. Yet they were both Titans, and preferred each others company to those new-squeaking gods upon Olympus who had not seen the making of the world. Oceanos palace was a great wonder, set deep in the earths rock. Its high-arched halls were gilded, the stone floors smoothed by centuries of divine feet. Through every room ran the faint sound of Oceanos river, source of the worlds fresh waters, so dark you could not tell where it ended and the rock-bed began. On its banks grew grass and soft gray flowers, and also the unnumbered children of Oceanos, naiads and nymphs and river-gods. Otter-sleek, laughing, their faces bright against the dusky air, they passed golden goblets among themselves and wrestled, playing games of love. In their midst, outshining all that lily beauty, sat my mother. Her hair was a warm brown, each strand so lustrous it seemed lit from within. She would have felt my fathers gaze, hot as gusts from a bonfire. I see her arrange her dress so it drapes just so over her shoulders. I see her dab her fingers, glinting, in the water. I have seen her do a thousand such tricks a thousand times. My father always fell for them. He believed the worlds natural order was to please him. Who is that? my father said to Oceanos. Oceanos had many golden-eyed grandchildren from my father already, and was glad to think of more. My daughter Perse. She is yours if you want her. The next day, my father found her by her fountain-pool in the upper world. It was a beautiful place, crowded with fat-headed narcissus, woven over with oak branches. There was no muck, no slimy frogs, only clean, round stones giving way to grass. Even my father, who cared nothing for the subtleties of nymph arts, admired it. My mother knew he was coming. Frail she was, but crafty, with a mind like a spike-toothed eel. She saw where the path to power lay for such as her, and it was not in bastards and riverbank tumbles. When he stood before her, arrayed in his glory, she laughed at him. Lie with you? Why should I? My father, of course, might have taken what he wanted. But Helios flattered himself that all women went eager to his bed, slave girls and divinities alike. His altars smoked with the proof, offerings from big-bellied mothers and happy by-blows. It is marriage, she said to him, or nothing. And if it is marriage, be sure: you may have what girls you like in the field, but you will bring none home, for only I will hold sway in your halls. Conditions, constrainment. These were novelties to my father, and gods love nothing more than novelty. A bargain, he said, and gave her a necklace to seal it, one of his own making, strung with beads of rarest amber. Later, when I was born, he gave her a second strand, and another for each of my three siblings. I do not know which she treasured more: the luminous beads themselves or the envy of her sisters when she wore them. I think she would have gone right on collecting them into eternity until they hung from her neck like a yoke on an ox if the high gods had not stopped her. By then they had learned what the four of us were. You may have other children, they told her, only not with him. But other husbands did not give amber beads. It was the only time I ever saw her weep. At my birth, an auntI will spare you her name because my tale is full of auntswashed and wrapped me. Another tended to my mother, painting the red back on her lips, brushing her hair with ivory combs. A third went to the door to admit my father. A girl, my mother said to him, wrinkling her nose. But my father did not mind his daughters, who were sweet-tempered and golden as the first press of olives. Men and gods paid dearly for the chance to breed from their blood, and my fathers treasury was said to rival that of the king of the gods himself. He placed his hand on my head in blessing. She will make a fair match, he said. How fair? my mother wanted to know. This might be consolation, if I could be traded for something better. My father considered, fingering the wisps of my hair, examining my eyes and the cut of my cheeks. A prince, I think. A prince? my mother said. You do not mean a mortal? The revulsion was plain on her face. Once when I was young I asked what mortals looked like. My father said, You may say they are shaped like us, but only as the worm is shaped like the whale. My mother had been simpler: like savage bags of rotten flesh. Surely she will marry a son of Zeus, my mother insisted. She had already begun imagining herself at feasts upon Olympus, sitting at Queen Heras right hand. No. Her hair is streaked like a lynx. And her chin. There is a sharpness to it that is less than pleasing. My mother did not argue further. Like everyone, she knew the stories of Helios temper when he was crossed. However gold he shines, do not forget his fire. She stood. Her belly was gone, her waist reknitted, her cheeks fresh and virgin-rosy. All our kind recover quickly, but she was faster still, one of the daughters of Oceanos, who shoot their babes like roe. Come, she said. Let us make a better one. I grew quickly. My infancy was the work of hours, my toddlerhood a few moments beyond that. An aunt stayed on hoping to curry favor with my mother and named me Hawk, Circe, for my yellow eyes, and the strange, thin sound of my crying. But when she realized that my mother no more noticed her service than the ground at her feet, she vanished. Mother, I said, Aunt is gone. My mother didnt answer. My father had already departed for his chariot in the sky, and she was winding her hair with flowers, preparing to leave through the secret ways of water, to join her sisters on their grassy riverbanks. I might have followed, but then I would have had to sit all day at my aunts feet while they gossiped of things I did not care for and could not understand. So I stayed. My fathers halls were dark and silent. His palace was a neighbor to Oceanos, buried in the earths rock, and its walls were made of polished obsidian. Why not? They could have been anything in the world, blood-red marble from Egypt or balsam from Araby, my father had only to wish it so. But he liked the way the obsidian reflected his light, the way its slick surfaces caught fire as he passed. Of course, he did not consider how black it would be when he was gone. My father has never been able to imagine the world without himself in it. I could do what I liked at those times: light a torch and run to see the dark flames follow me. Lie on the smooth earth floor and wear small holes in its surface with my fingers. There were no grubs or worms, though I didnt know to miss them. Nothing lived in those halls, except for us. When my father returned at night, the ground rippled like the flank of a horse, and the holes I had made smoothed themselves over. A moment later my mother returned, smelling of flowers. She ran to greet him, and he let her hang from his neck, accepted wine, went to his great silver chair. I followed at his heels. Welcome home, Father, welcome home. While he drank his wine, he played draughts. No one was allowed to play with him. He placed the stone counters, spun the board, and placed them again. My mother drenched her voice in honey. Will you not come to bed, my love? She turned before him slowly, showing the lushness of her figure as if she were roasting on a spit. Most often he would leave his game then, but sometimes he did not, and those were my favorite times, for my mother would go, slamming the myrrh-wood door behind her. At my fathers feet, the whole world was made of gold. The light came from everywhere at once, his yellow skin, his lambent eyes, the bronze flashing of his hair. His flesh was hot as a brazier, and I pressed as close as he would let me, like a lizard to noonday rocks. My aunt had said that some of the lesser gods could scarcely bear to look at him, but I was his daughter and blood, and I stared at his face so long that when I looked away it was pressed upon my vision still, glowing from the floors, the shining walls and inlaid tables, even my own skin. What would happen, I said, if a mortal saw you in your fullest glory? He would be burned to ash in a second. What if a mortal saw me? My father smiled. I listened to the draught pieces moving, the familiar rasp of marble against wood. The mortal would count himself fortunate. I would not burn him? Of course not, he said. But my eyes are like yours. No, he said. Look. His gaze fell upon a log at the fireplaces side. It glowed, then flamed, then fell as ash to the ground. And that is the least of my powers. Can you do as much? All night I stared at those logs. I could not. My sister was born, and my brother soon after that. I cannot say how long it was exactly. Divine days fall like water from a cataract, and I had not learned yet the mortal trick of counting them. Youd think my father would have taught us better, for he, after all, knows every sunrise. But even he used to call my brother and sister twins. Certainly, from the moment of my brothers birth, they were entwined like minks. My father blessed them both with one hand. You, he said to my luminous sister Pasipha?. You will marry an eternal son of Zeus. He used his prophecy voice, the one that spoke of future certainties. My mother glowed to hear it, thinking of the robes she would wear to Zeus feasts. And you, he said to my brother, in his regular voice, resonant, clear as a summers morning. Every son reflects upon his mother. My mother was pleased with this, and took it as permission to name him. She called him Perses, for herself. The two of them were clever and quickly saw how things stood. They loved to sneer at me behind their ermine paws. Her eyes are yellow as piss. Her voice is screechy as an owl. She is called Hawk, but she should be called Goat for her ugliness. Those were their earliest attempts at barbs, still dull, but day by day they sharpened. I learned to avoid them, and they soon found better sport among the infant naiads and river-lords in Oceanos halls. When my mother went to her sisters, they followed and established dominion over all our pliant cousins, hypnotized like minnows before the pikes mouth. They had a hundred tormenting games that they devised. Come, Melia, they coaxed. It is the Olympian fashion to cut off your hair to the nape of your neck. How will you ever catch a husband if you dont let us do it? When Melia saw herself shorn like a hedgehog and cried, they would laugh till the caverns echoed. I left them to it. I preferred my fathers quiet halls and spent every second I could at my fathers feet. One day, perhaps as a reward, he offered to take me with him to visit his sacred herd of cows. This was a great honor, for it meant I might ride in his golden chariot and see the animals that were the envy of all the gods, fifty pure-white heifers that delighted his eye on his daily path over the earth. I leaned over the chariots jeweled side, watching in wonder at the earth passing beneath: the rich green of forests, the jagged mountains, and the wide out-flung blue of the ocean. I looked for mortals, but we were too high up to see them. The herd lived on the grassy island of Thrinakia with two of my half-sisters as caretakers. When we arrived these sisters ran at once to my father and hung from his neck, exclaiming. Of all my fathers beautiful children, they were among the most beautiful, with skin and hair like molten gold. Lampetia and Phaethousa, their names were. Radiant and Shining. And who is this you have brought with you? She must be one of Perses children, look at her eyes. Of course! LampetiaI thought it was Lampetiastroked my hair. Darling, your eyes are nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. Your mother is very beautiful, but she has never been strong. My eyes are like yours, I said. How sweet! No, darling, ours are bright as fire, and our hair like sun on the water. Youre clever to keep yours in a braid, Phaethousa said. The brown streaking does not look so bad then. It is a shame you cannot hide your voice the same way. She could never speak again. That would work, would it not, sister? So it would. They smiled. Shall we go to see the cows? I had never seen a cow before, of any kind, but it did not matter: the animals were so obviously beautiful that I needed no comparison. Their coats were pure as lily petals and their eyes gentle and long-lashed. Their horns had been gildedthat was my sisters doingand when they bent to crop the grass, their necks dipped like dancers. In the sunset light, their backs gleamed glossy-soft. Oh! I said. May I touch one? No, my father said. Shall we tell you their names? That is White-face, and that is Bright-eyes, and that Darling. There is Lovely Girl and Pretty and Golden-horn and Gleaming. There is Darling and there is You named Darling already, I said. You said that one was Darling. I pointed to the first cow, peacefully chewing. My sisters looked at each other, then at my father, a single golden glance. But he was gazing at his cows in abstracted glory. You must be mistaken, they said. This one we just said is Darling. And this one is Star-bright and this one Flashing and My father said, What is this? A scab upon Pretty? Immediately my sisters were falling over themselves. What scab? Oh, it cannot be! Oh, wicked Pretty, to have hurt yourself. Oh, wicked thing, that hurt you! I leaned close to see. It was a very small scab, smaller than my smallest fingernail, but my father was frowning. You will fix it by tomorrow. My sisters bobbed their heads, of course, of course. We are so sorry. We stepped again into the chariot and my father took up the silver-tipped reins. My sisters pressed a last few kisses to his hands, then the horses leapt, swinging us through the sky. The first constellations were already peeping through the dimming light. I remembered how my father had once told me that on earth there were men called astronomers whose task it was to keep track of his rising and setting. They were held in highest esteem among mortals, kept in palaces as counselors of kings, but sometimes my father lingered over one thing or another and threw their calculations into despair. Then those astronomers were hauled before the kings they served and killed as frauds. My father had smiled when he told me. It was what they deserved, he said. Helios the Sun was bound to no will but his own, and none might say what he would do. Father, I said that day, are we late enough to kill astronomers? We are, he answered, shaking the jingling reins. The horses surged forward, and the world blurred beneath us, the shadows of night smoking from the seas edge. I did not look. There was a twisting feeling in my chest, like cloth being wrung dry. I was thinking of those astronomers. I imagined them, low as worms, sagging and bent. Please, they cried, on bony knees, it wasnt our fault, the sun itself was late. The sun is never late, the kings answered from their thrones. It is blasphemy to say so, you must die! And so the axes fell and chopped those pleading men in two. Father, I said, I feel strange. You are hungry, he said. It is past time for the feast. Your sisters should be ashamed of themselves for delaying us. I ate well at dinner, yet the feeling lingered. I must have had an odd look on my face, for Perses and Pasipha? began to snicker from their couch. Did you swallow a frog? No, I said. This only made them laugh harder, rubbing their draped limbs on each other like snakes polishing their scales. My sister said, And how were our fathers golden heifers? Beautiful. Perses laughed. She doesnt know! Have you ever heard of anyone so stupid? Never, my sister said. I shouldnt have asked, but I was still drifting in my thoughts, seeing those severed bodies sprawled on marble floors. What dont I know? My sisters perfect mink face. That he fucks them, of course. Thats how he makes new ones. He turns into a bull and sires their calves, then cooks the ones that get old. Thats why everyone thinks they are immortal. He does not. They howled, pointing at my reddened cheeks. The sound drew my mother. She loved my siblings japes. Were telling Circe about the cows, my brother told her. She didnt know. My mothers laughter, silver as a fountain down its rocks. Stupid Circe. Such were my years then. I would like to say that all the while I waited to break out, but the truth is, Im afraid I might have floated on, believing those dull miseries were all there was, until the end of days. Chapter Two WORD CAME THAT ONE of my uncles was going to be punished. I had never seen him, but I had heard his name over and over in my familys doomy whispers. Prometheus. Long ago, when mankind was still shivering and shrinking in their caves, he had defied the will of Zeus and brought them the gift of fire. From its flames had sprung all the arts and profits of civilization that jealous Zeus had hoped to keep from their hands. For such rebellion Prometheus had been sent to live in the underworlds deepest pit until a proper torment could be devised. And now Zeus announced the time was come. My other uncles ran to my fathers palace, beards flapping, fears spilling from their mouths. They were a motley group: river-men with muscles like the trunks of trees, brine-soaked mer-gods with crabs hanging from their beards, stringy old-timers with seal meat in their teeth. Most of them were not uncles at all, but some sort of grand-cousin. They were Titans like my father and grandfather, like Prometheus, the remnants of the war among the gods. Those who were not broken or in chains, who had made their peace with Zeus thunderbolts. There had only been Titans once, at the dawning of the world. Then my great-uncle Kronos had heard a prophecy that his child would one day overthrow him. When his wife, Rhea, birthed her first babe, he tore it damp from her arms and swallowed it whole. Four more children were born, and he ate them all the same, until at last, in desperation, Rhea swaddled a stone and gave it to him to swallow instead. Kronos was deceived, and the rescued baby, Zeus, was taken to Mount Dicte to be raised in secret. When he was grown he rose up indeed, plucking the thunderbolt from the sky and forcing poisonous herbs down his fathers throat. His brothers and sisters, living in their fathers stomach, were vomited forth. They sprang to their brothers side, naming themselves Olympians after the great peak where they set their thrones. The old gods divided themselves. Many threw their strength to Kronos, but my father and grandfather joined Zeus. Some said it was because Helios had always hated Kronos vaunting pride; others whispered that his prophetic gift gave him foreknowledge of the outcome of the war. The battles rent the skies: the air itself burned, and gods clawed the flesh from each others bones. The land was drenched in boiling gouts of blood so potent that rare flowers sprang up where they fell. At last Zeus strength prevailed. He clapped those who had defied him into chains, and the remaining Titans he stripped of their powers, bestowing them on his brothers and sisters and the children he had bred. My uncle Nereus, once the mighty ruler of the sea, was now lackey to its new god, Poseidon. My uncle Proteus lost his palace, and his wives were taken for bed-slaves. Only my father and grandfather suffered no diminishment, no loss of place. The Titans sneered. Were they supposed to be grateful? Helios and Oceanos had turned the tide of war, everyone knew it. Zeus should have loaded them with new powers, new appointments, but he was afraid, for their strength already matched his own. They looked to my father, waiting for his protest, the flaring of his great fire. But Helios only returned to his halls beneath the earth, far from Zeus sky-bright gaze. Centuries had passed. The earths wounds had healed and the peace had held. But the grudges of gods are as deathless as their flesh, and on feast nights my uncles gathered close at my fathers side. I loved the way they lowered their eyes when they spoke to him, the way they went silent and attentive when he shifted in his seat. The wine-bowls emptied and the torches waned. It has been long enough, my uncles whispered. We are strong again. Think what your fire might do if you set it free. You are the greatest of the old blood, greater even than Oceanos. Greater than Zeus himself, if only you wish it. My father smiled. Brothers, he said, what talk is this? Is there not smoke and savor for all? This Zeus does well enough. Zeus, if he had heard, would have been satisfied. But he could not see what I saw, plain on my fathers face. Those unspoken, hanging words. This Zeus does well enough, for now. My uncles rubbed their hands and smiled back. They went away, bent over their hopes, thinking what they could not wait to do when Titans ruled again. It was my first lesson. Beneath the smooth, familiar face of things is another that waits to tear the world in two. Now my uncles were crowding into my fathers hall, eyes rolling in fear. Prometheus sudden punishment was a sign, they said, that Zeus and his kind were moving against us at last. The Olympians would never be truly happy until they destroyed us utterly. We should stand with Prometheus, or no, we should speak against him, to ward off Zeus thunderstroke from our own heads. I was in my customary place at my fathers feet. I lay silent so they would not notice and send me away, but I felt my chest roiling with that overwhelming possibility: the war revived. Our halls blasted wide with thunderbolts. Athena, Zeus warrior daughter, hunting us down with her gray spear, her brother in slaughter, Ares, by her side. We would be chained and cast into fiery pits from which there was no escape. My father spoke calm and golden at their center: Come, brothers, if Prometheus is to be punished, it is only because he has earned it. Let us not chase after conspiracy. But my uncles fretted on. The punishment is to be public. It is an insult, a lesson they teach us. Look what happens to Titans who do not obey. My fathers light had taken on a keen, white edge. This is the chastisement of a renegade and no more. Prometheus was led astray by his foolish love for mortals. There is no lesson here for a Titan. Do you understand? My uncles nodded. On their faces, disappointment braided with relief. No blood, for now. The punishment of a god was a rare and terrible thing, and talk ran wild through our halls. Prometheus could not be killed, but there were many hellish torments that could take deaths place. Would it be knives or swords, or limbs torn off? Red-hot spikes or a wheel of fire? The naiads swooned into each others laps. The river-lords postured, faces dark with excitement. You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see. On the appointed day, the doors of my fathers receiving hall were thrown open. Huge torches carbuncled with jewels glowed from the walls and by their light gathered nymphs and gods of every variety. The slender dryads flowed out of their forests, and the stony oreads ran down from their crags. My mother was there with her naiad sisters; the horse-shouldered river-gods crowded in beside the fish-white sea-nymphs and their lords of salt. Even the great Titans came: my father, of course, and Oceanos, but also shape-shifting Proteus and Nereus of the Sea; my aunt Selene, who drives her silver horses across the night sky; and the four Winds led by my icy uncle Boreas. A thousand avid eyes. The only ones missing were Zeus and his Olympians. They disdained our underground gatherings. The word was they had already held their own private session of torment in the clouds. Charge of the punishment had been given to a Fury, one of the infernal goddesses of vengeance who dwell among the dead. My family was in its usual place of preeminence, and I stood at the front of that great throng, my eyes fixed upon the door. Behind me the naiads and river-gods jostled and whispered. I hear they have serpents for hair. No, they have scorpion tails, and eyes dripping blood. The doorway was empty. Then at once it was not. Her face was gray and pitiless, as if cut from living rock, and from her back dark wings lifted, jointed like a vultures. A forked tongue flicked from her lips. On her head snakes writhed, green and thin as worms, weaving living ribbons through her hair. I bring the prisoner. Her voice echoed off the ceiling, raw and baying, like a hunting dog calling down its quarry. She strode into the hall. In her right hand was a whip, its tip rasping faintly as it dragged along the floor. In her other hand stretched a length of chain, and at its end followed Prometheus. He wore a thick white blindfold and the remnants of a tunic around his waist. His hands were bound and his feet too, yet he did not stumble. I heard an aunt beside me whisper that the fetters had been made by the great god of smiths, Hephaestus himself, so not even Zeus could break them. The Fury rose up on her vulture wings and drove the manacles high into the wall. Prometheus dangled from them, his arms drawn taut, his bones showing knobs through the skin. Even I, who knew so little of discomfort, felt the ache of it. My father would say something, I thought. Or one of the other gods. Surely they would give him some sort of acknowledgment, a word of kindness, they were his family, after all. But Prometheus hung silent and alone. The Fury did not bother with a lecture. She was a goddess of torment and understood the eloquence of violence. The sound of the whip was a crack like oaken branches breaking. Prometheus shoulders jerked and a gash opened in his side long as my arm. All around me indrawn breaths hissed like water on hot rocks. The Fury lifted her lash again. Crack. A bloodied strip tore from his back. She began to carve in earnest, each blow falling on the next, peeling his flesh away in long lines that crossed and recrossed his skin. The only sound was the snap of the whip and Prometheus muffled, explosive breaths. The tendons stood out in his neck. Someone pushed at my back, trying for a better view. The wounds of gods heal fast, but the Fury knew her business and was faster. Blow after blow she struck, until the leather was soaked. I had understood gods could bleed, but I had never seen it. He was one of the greatest of our kind, and the drops that fell from him were golden, smearing his back with a terrible beauty. Still the Fury whipped on. Hours passed, perhaps days. But even gods cannot watch a whipping for eternity. The blood and agony began to grow tedious. They remembered their comforts, the banquets that were waiting on their pleasure, the soft couches laid with purple, ready to enfold their limbs. One by one they drifted off, and after a final lash, the Fury followed, for she deserved a feast after such work. The blindfold had slipped from my uncles face. His eyes were closed, and his chin drooped on his chest. His back hung in gilded shreds. I had heard my uncles say that Zeus had given him the chance to beg on his knees for lesser punishment. He had refused. I was the only one left. The smell of ichor drenched the air, thick as honey. The rivulets of molten blood were still tracing down his legs. My pulse struck in my veins. Did he know I was there? I took a careful step towards him. His chest rose and fell with a soft rasping sound. Lord Prometheus? My voice was thin in the echoing room. His head lifted to me. Open, his eyes were handsome, large and dark and long-lashed. His cheeks were smooth and beardless, yet there was something about him that was as ancient as my grandfather. I could bring you nectar, I said. His gaze rested on mine. I would thank you for that, he said. His voice was resonant as aged wood. It was the first time I had heard it; he had not cried out once in all his torment. I turned. My breaths came fast as I walked through the corridors to the feasting hall, filled with laughing gods. Across the room, the Fury was toasting with an immense goblet embossed with a gorgons leering face. She had not forbidden anyone to speak to Prometheus, but that was nothing, her business was offense. I imagined her infernal voice, howling out my name. I imagined manacles rattling on my wrists and the whip striking from the air. But my mind could imagine no further than that. I had never felt a lash. I did not know the color of my blood. I trembled so much I had to carry the cup in two hands. What would I say if someone stopped me? But the passageways were quiet as I walked back through them. In the great hall, Prometheus was silent in his chains. His eyes had closed again, and his wounds shone in the torchlight. I hesitated. I do not sleep, he said. Will you lift the cup for me? I flushed. Of course he could not hold it himself. I stepped forward, so close that I could feel the heat rising from his shoulders. The ground was wet with his fallen blood. I raised the cup to his lips and he drank. I watched his throat moving gently. His skin was beautiful, the color of polished walnut. It smelled of green moss drenched with rain. You are a daughter of Helios, are you not? he said, when he had finished, and Id stepped back. Yes. The question stung. If I had been a proper daughter, he would not have had to ask. I would have been perfect and gleaming with beauty poured straight from my fathers source. Thank you for your kindness. I did not know if I was kind, I felt I did not know anything. He spoke carefully, almost tentatively, yet his treason had been so brazen. My mind struggled with the contradiction. Bold action and bold manner are not the same. Are you hungry? I asked. I could bring you food. I do not think I will ever be hungry again. It was not piteous, as it might have been in a mortal. We gods eat as we sleep: because it is one of lifes great pleasures, not because we have to. We may decide one day not to obey our stomachs, if we are strong enough. I did not doubt Prometheus was. After all those hours at my fathers feet, I had learned to nose out power where it lay. Some of my uncles had less scent than the chairs they sat on, but my grandfather Oceanos smelled deep as rich river mud, and my father like a searing blaze of just-fed fire. Prometheus green moss scent filled the room. I looked down at the empty cup, willing my courage. You aided mortals, I said. That is why you are punished. It is. Will you tell me, what is a mortal like? It was a childs question, but he nodded gravely. There is no single answer. They are each different. The only thing they share is death. You know the word? I know it, I said. But I do not understand. No god can. Their bodies crumble and pass into earth. Their souls turn to cold smoke and fly to the underworld. There they eat nothing and drink nothing and feel no warmth. Everything they reach for slips from their grasp. A chill shivered across my skin. How do they bear it? As best they can. The torches were fading, and the shadows lapped at us like dark water. Is it true that you refused to beg for pardon? And that you were not caught, but confessed to Zeus freely what you did? It is. Why? His eyes were steady on mine. Perhaps you will tell me. Why would a god do such a thing? I had no answer. It seemed to me madness to invite divine punishment, but I could not say that to him, not when I stood in his blood. Not every god need be the same, he said. What I might have said in return, I do not know. A distant shout floated up the corridor. It is time for you to go now. Allecto does not like to leave me for long. Her cruelty springs fast as weeds and must any moment be cut again. It was a strange way to put it, for he was the one who would be cut. But I liked it, as if his words were a secret. A thing that looked like a stone, but inside was a seed. I will go then, I said. You willbe well? Well enough, he said. What is your name? Circe. Did he smile a little? Perhaps I only flattered myself. I was trembling with all I had done, which was more than I had ever done in my life. I turned and left him, walking back through those obsidian corridors. In the feasting hall, gods still drank and laughed and lay across each others laps. I watched them. I waited for someone to remark on my absence, but no one did, for no one had noticed. Why would they? I was nothing, a stone. One more nymph child among the thousand thousands. A strange feeling was rising in me. A sort of humming in my chest, like bees at winters thaw. I walked to my fathers treasury, filled with its glittering riches: golden cups shaped like the heads of bulls, necklaces of lapis and amber, silver tripods, and quartz-chiseled bowls with swan-neck handles. My favorite had always been a dagger with an ivory haft carved like a lions face. A king had given it to my father in hopes of gaining his favor. And did he? I once asked my father. No, my father had said. I took the dagger. In my room, the bronze edge shone in the tapers light and the lion showed her teeth. Beneath lay my palm, soft and unlined. It could bear no scar, no festering wound. It would never wear the faintest print of age. I found that I was not afraid of the pain that would come. It was another terror that gripped me: that the blade would not cut at all. That it would pass through me, like falling into smoke. It did not pass through. My skin leapt apart at the blades touch, and the pain darted silver and hot as lightning strike. The blood that flowed was red, for I did not have my uncles power. The wound seeped for a long time before it began to reknit itself. I sat watching it, and as I watched I found a new thought in myself. I am embarrassed to tell it, so rudimentary it seems, like an infants discovery that her hand is her own. But that is what I was then, an infant. The thought was this: that all my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it. 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. Someones 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 Id let Apollo have him? He does not deserve such a flower. I blew a discus into the boys 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. Whats wrong with you these days? Maybe shes in love, Pasipha? said. Hah! Perses laughed. Father cannot even give her away. Believe me hes tried. My mother looked back over her delicate shoulder. At least we dont have to listen to her voice. I can make her talk, watch. Perses took the flesh of my arm between his fingers and squeezed. Youve been feasting too much, my sister laughed at him. He flushed. Shes just a freak. Shes hiding something. He caught me by the wrist. Whatre you always carrying around in your hand? Shes got something. Open her fingers. Pasipha? 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. Ae?tes, 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 Pasipha? eyed us, to see if we would start a war. A war? We did not care for that. Ae?tes 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. Pasipha? 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 Ae?tes laughed, which made me feel quick as Athena, flashing god of wit. Later, people would say that Ae?tes 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 seas 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 fathers favored heir. Ae?tes 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. Ae?tes 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. Ae?tes 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 youre going to defy the gods, do it for a better reason. Id hate to see my sister turned to cinders for nothing. Pasipha? was contracted in marriage. She had been angling for it a long time, sitting in my fathers 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 fires 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. Ae?tes 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 Pasipha? 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 halls 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. Ae?tes 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. Ae?tes 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, Ae?tes 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? Dont 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 fathers obsidian halls, shining darkly beneath his golden crown. Yet when he placed his hand on my sisters 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, Ae?tes 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 elses. Of course you like him, Ae?tes 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 fathers 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 Ae?tes and my old deserted shore. There I found the stones Ae?tes 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. 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 mans 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 timesfor 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 fathers name, it sent him glancing at the sun and trembling worse than ever, but at days 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 fathers light. I had held Ae?tes 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 boats 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 upwards and upwards. This art too, I did not know. Wood needed no coaxing for my father to kindle it. He saw me watching and rubbed self-consciously at his calloused hands. I know I am ugly to you. No, I thought. My grandfathers 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. Ae?tes, 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 ships 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 flames 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. Circes hair is matted like a dogs. 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. Im 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. 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 grandfathers palace. Through its arched passageways I went, to the womens 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 worlds 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, Perses 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 grandmothers 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 fathers. 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 fathers 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 someI do not know the word. Some device. Some bargain with the Fates, some trick, some pharmaka It was the word Ae?tes had used, when he spoke of herbs with wondrous powers, sprung from the fallen blood of gods. The sea snake at my grandmothers 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 grandmothers face when Id 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 fathers 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. Chapter Five COME, I SAID. IT was midday and hot, the earth crumbling beneath our feet. It is very close. A perfect sleeping spot to ease your weary bones. He followed sullenly. He was always ill-tempered when the sun was high. I do not like to be so far from my boat. Your boat will be safe, I promise it. Look! We are here. Are not these flowers worth the walk? They are beautiful, palest yellow and shaped like bells. I coaxed him down among the crowding blossoms. I had brought water and a basket of food. I was aware of my fathers eye above us. A picnic, I meant it to appear, if he should glance our way. I could not be sure what my grandmother might have said to him. I served Glaucos and watched while he ate. What would he look like as a god? I wondered. A little distance away grew a forest, its shade thick enough to hide us from my fathers eyes. When he was changed, I would pull him there, and show him that my oath did not hold us anymore. I set a cushion on the ground. Lie back, I said. Sleep. Wont it be nice to sleep? I have a headache, he complained. And the sun is in my eyes. I brushed back his hair and moved so I blocked the sun. He sighed then. He was always tired, and in a moment his eyes were dragging closed. I stirred the flowers so they lay against him. Now, I thought. Now. He slept on as I had seen him sleep a hundred times. In my fantasies of this moment, the flowers had changed him at a touch. Their immortal blood leapt into his veins and he rose up a god, took my hands and said, Now I may thank you as you deserve. I stirred the flowers again. I plucked some and dropped them on his chest. I blew out my breath, so the scent and pollen would drift over him. Change, I whispered. He must be a god. Change. He slept. The flowers hung lank around us, wan and fragile as moth wings. A line of acid was tracing through my stomach. Maybe I had not found the right ones, I told myself. I should have come to scout ahead, but I had been too eager. I rose and walked the hillside, searching for some crimson clutch of blooms, vivid, leaking obvious power. But all I found were common blossoms that any hill might have. I crumpled beside Glaucos and wept. The tears of those of naiad blood can flow for eternity, and I thought it might take an eternity to speak all my grief. I had failed. Ae?tes had been wrong, there were no herbs of power, and Glaucos would be lost to me forever, his sweet, perishing beauty withered into earth. Overhead, my father slipped along his track. Those soft, foolish flowers bobbed around us on their stems. I hated them. I seized a handful and ripped it up by the roots. I tore the petals. I broke the stems to pieces. The damp shreds stuck to my hands, and the sap bled across my skin. The scent rose raw and wild, acetic as old wine. I tore up another handful, my hands sticky and hot. In my ears was a dark humming, like a hive. It is hard to describe what happened next. A knowledge woke in the depths of my blood. It whispered: that the strength of those flowers lay in their sap, which could transform any creature to its truest self. I did not stop to question. The sun had passed the horizon by then. Glaucos lips had fallen open as he dreamed, and I lifted a handful of flowers over him, squeezing. The sap leaked and gathered. Drop by milky drop I let it fall into his mouth. A stray bead landed on his lips, and I slid it onto his tongue with my finger. He coughed. Your truest self, I told him. Let it be. I crouched, another handful ready. I would squeeze the whole field into him if I had to. But even as I thought that, a shadow moved across his skin. It darkened as I watched. Past brown it went, past purple, spreading like a bruise until his whole body was deepest sea-blue. His hands were swelling, his legs, his shoulders. Hairs began to push out from his chin, long and copper-green. Where his tunic gaped, I could see blisters forming on his chest. I stared. They were barnacles. Glaucos, I whispered. His arm was strange beneath my fingers, hard and thick and slightly cool. I shook it. Wake up. His eyes opened. For the passing of one breath he did not move. Then he leapt to his feet, towering like a storm-surge, the sea-god he had always been. Circe, he cried, I am changed! There was no time to go to the forest, no time to draw him to me on the moss. He was wild with his new strength, snorting like a bull in spring air. Look, he said, holding out his hands. No scabs. No scars. And I am not tired. For the first time in all my life, I am not tired! I could swim the whole ocean. I want to see myself. How do I look? Like a god, I said. He seized me by the arms and spun me, white teeth shining in his blue face. Then he stopped, a new thought dawning. I can go with you now. I can go to the gods halls. Will you take me? I could not tell him no. I brought him to my grandmother. My hands trembled a little, but the lies were ready on my lips. He had fallen asleep in a meadow and woken like this. Perhaps my wish to turn him immortal was a kind of prophecy. It is not unknown in my fathers children. She scarcely listened. She suspected nothing. No one had ever suspected me. Brother, she cried, embracing him. Newest brother! This is an act of the Fates. You are welcome here until you find a palace of your own. There was no more walking on the shore. Every day I spent in those halls with Glaucos the God. We sat upon the banks of my grandfathers twilight river, and I introduced him to all my aunts and uncles and cousins, reeling off nymph after nymph, though before that moment I would have said I did not know their names. For their part, they crowded him, clamoring for the story of his miraculous transformation. He spun the tale well: his ill humor, the drowsiness that fell on him like a boulder, and then the power lifting him like cresting waves, granted by the Fates themselves. He would bare his blue chest before them, strapped with god-muscles, and offer his hands, smooth as surf-rolled shells. See how I am grown into myself! I loved his face in those moments, glowing with power and joy. My chest swelled with his. I longed to tell him that it was I who had given him such a gift, but I saw how it pleased him to believe his godhead wholly his own and I did not want to take that from him. I still dreamed of lying with him in those dark woods, but I had begun to think beyond that, to say to myself new words: marriage, husband. Come, I told him. You must meet my father and grandfather. I chose his clothes myself, in colors that showed his skin to greatest advantage. I warned him of the courtesies that were expected, and kept to the back, watching, while he offered them. He did well, and they praised him. They took him to Nereus, old Titan god of the sea, who in turn introduced him to Poseidon, his new lord. Together they helped him shape his underwater palace, set with gold and wave-wrack treasures. I went there every day. The brine stung my skin, and he was often too busy with admiring guests to give me more than the briefest smile, but I did not mind. We had time now, all the time we would ever need. It was a pleasure to sit at those silver tables, watching the nymphs and gods tumble over themselves for his attention. Once they would have sneered at him, called him fish-gutter. Now they begged him for tales of his mortality. The stories grew in the telling: his mother bent-back like a hag, his father beating him every day. They gasped and pressed a hand to their hearts. It is well, he said. I sent a wave to smash my fathers boat, and the shock killed him. My mother I blessed. She has a new husband and a slave to help her with the washing. She has built me an altar, and already it smokes. My village hopes I will bring them a good tide. And will you? The nymph who spoke clutched her hands beneath her chin. She had been one of my sister and Perses dearest companions, her round face lacquered with malice, but now speaking to Glaucos even she was transformed, open, ripe as a pear. We will see, he said, what they offer me. Sometimes when he was very pleased, his feet turned to a flipping tail, and now it was. I watched it sweep along the marble floor, shining palest gray, its overlapping scales faintly iridescent. Is your father truly dead? I said, when they were gone. Of course. He deserved it, for his blasphemy. He was polishing a new trident, a gift from Poseidon himself. During the days, he lounged on couches, drinking from goblets large as his head. He laughed like my uncles did, open-mouthed and roaring. He was not just some scraggled lord of crabs, but one of the greater sea-gods who might call whales to his beck if he wanted, rescue ships from reefs and shoals, lift rafts of sailors from the drowning waves. That round-faced nymph, he said, the beautiful one. What is her name? My mind had drifted. I was imagining how he might ask for my hand. On the beach, I thought. That shore where we had first glimpsed each other. Do you mean Scylla? Yes, Scylla, he said. She moves like water, does she not? Silver as a flowing stream. His eyes lifted to hold mine. Circe, I have never been so happy. I smiled back at him. I saw nothing but the boy that I loved shining at last. Every honor lavished on him, every altar built in his name, every admirer who crowded him, these felt like gifts to me, for he was mine. I began to see that nymph Scylla everywhere. Here she was laughing at some jest of Glaucos, here she was touching her hand to her throat and shaking out her hair. She was very beautiful, it was true, one of the jewels of our halls. The river-gods and nymphs sighed over her, and she liked to raise their hopes with a look and break them with another. When she moved she clattered faintly from the thousand presents they pressed on her: bracelets of coral, pearls about her neck in strings. She sat beside me and showed them to me, one by one. Lovely, I said, scarcely looking. Yet there she was again at the next feast, her jewels doubled, trebled, enough to sink a fishing boat. I think now she must have been furious that it took me so long to understand. By then she was holding her pearls, big as apples, up to my face. Are they not the greatest marvel you have ever seen? The truth is, I had begun to wonder if she was in love with me. They are very fine, I said faintly. At last she had to set her teeth and say it straight. Glaucos says he will empty the sea of them, if it would please me. We were in Oceanos hall, the air sickly with incense. I started. Those are from Glaucos? Oh, the joy on her face. All of them are. You mean you have not heard? I thought you would be first to know, you are so close. But perhaps you are not the friend that you think you are to him? She waited, watching me. I was aware of other faces too, giddily breathless. Such fights were more precious than gold in our halls. She smiled. Glaucos asked me to marry him. I have not decided yet what I will say. What is your counsel, Circe? Should I take him, blue skin, flippers, and all? The naiads laughed like a thousand plashing fountains. I fled so she would not see my tears and wear them as another of her trophies. My father was with my river-uncle Achelous, and frowned to be interrupted. What? I want to marry Glaucos. Will you allow it? He laughed. Glaucos? He has his pick. I do not think it will be you. A shock ran through me. I did not stop to brush my hair or change my dress. Every moment felt like a drop of my blood lost. I ran to Glaucos palace. He was away at some other gods hall so I waited, trembling, amid his overturned goblets, the wine-soaked cushions from his latest feast. He came at last. With one flick of his hand, the mess was gone, and the floors gleamed again. Circe, he said, when he saw me. Just that, as if you might say: foot. Do you mean to marry Scylla? I watched the light sweep across his face. Is she not the most perfect creature you have ever seen? Her ankles are so small and delicate, like the sweetest doe in the forest. The river-gods are enraged that she favors me, and I hear even Apollo is jealous. I was sorry then that I had not used those tricks of hair and eyes and lips that all our kind have. Glaucos, I said, she is beautiful, yes, but she does not deserve you. She is cruel, and she does not love you as you might be loved. What do you mean? He was frowning at me, as if I were a face he could not quite remember. I tried to think of what my sister would do. I stepped to him, trailed my fingers on his arm. I mean, I know one who will love you better. Who? he said. But I could see him start to understand. His hands lifted, as though to ward me off. He, who was a towering god. You have been a sister to me, he said. I would be more, I said. I would be all. I pressed my lips to his. He pushed me from him. His face was caught, half in anger, half in a sort of fear. He looked almost like his old self. I have loved you since that first day I saw you sailing, I said. Scylla laughs at your fins and green beard, but I cherished you when there were fish guts on your hands and you wept from your fathers cruelty. I helped you when No! He slashed his hand through the air. I will not think on those days. Every hour some new bruise upon me, some new ache, always weary, always burdened and weak. I sit at councils with your father now. I do not have to beg for every scrap. Nymphs clamor for me, and I may choose the best among them, which is Scylla. The words struck like stones, but I would not give him up so easily. I can be best for you, I said. I can please you, I swear it. You will find none more loyal than me. I will do anything. I do think he loved me a little. For before I could say the thousand humiliating things in my heart, all the proofs of passion I had hoarded, the crawling devotions I would do, I felt his power come around me. And with that same flick he had used upon the cushions, he sent me back to my rooms. I lay on the dirt, weeping. Those flowers had made him his true being, which was blue, and finned, and not mine. I thought I would die of such pain, which was not like the sinking numbness Ae?tes had left behind, but sharp and fierce as a blade through my chest. But of course I could not die. I would live on, through each scalding moment to the next. This is the grief that makes our kind choose to be stones and trees rather than flesh. Beautiful Scylla, dainty-doe Scylla, Scylla with her viper heart. Why had she done such a thing? It was not love, I had seen the sneer in her eyes when she spoke of his flippers. Perhaps it was because she loved my sister and brother, who scorned me. Perhaps it was because her father was a nothing river, and her mother a shark-faced sea-nymph, and she liked the thought of taking something from the daughter of the sun. It did not matter. All I knew was that I hated her. For I was like any dull ass who has ever loved someone who loved another. I thought: if only she were gone, it would change everything. I left my fathers halls. It was the time between the suns setting and my pale aunts rise. There was no one to see me. I gathered those flowers of true being and brought them to the cove where it was said Scylla bathed each day. I broke their stems and emptied their white sap drop by drop into the waters. She would not be able to hide her adder malice anymore. All her ugliness would be revealed. Her eyebrows would thicken, her hair would turn dull, and her nose would grow long and snouted. The halls would echo with her furious screams and the great gods would come to whip me, but I would welcome them, for every lash upon my skin would be only further proof to Glaucos of my love. 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 ofmeeting. 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. ThenI 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 squids, 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 Scyllas cove, I had not wondered how my cousins would take it, those who were Scyllas 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 Id 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 shes lain with half the halls. Im 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. Scyllas sister pretended to howl like a dog. Even my grandparents had come to listen, smiling at the crowds 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 lions 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 loves 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 Scyllas 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 fathers 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 Id 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 hed 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 Furys whip, given the chance. I was not like them. Are you not? The voice was my uncles, resonant and deep. Then you must think, Circe. What would they not do? My fathers 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 uncles 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 Scyllas 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 fathers 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 fires heart, as purest, hottest coals. He stood, yet he kept on rising, as if he would tear a hole in the ceiling, in the earths 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 fathers 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 Perses 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 days 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 fathers 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 fathers halls, still stumbling a little. Past the polished tables we went, past the draped bedroom where my mother slept. Ae?tes was standing over our fathers 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 fathers 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 Ae?tes face was calm, as if my fathers anger were only another thing in the room, a table, a stool. I have come, he said, because I heard of Scyllas transformation, and Glaucos too, at Circes hands. At the Fates hands. I tell you, Circe has no such power. You are mistaken. I stared, expecting my fathers 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 mens 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 elses mouth these claims would have seemed like wild lies. But my brothers 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, Pasipha? rules with her poisons, and in Babylon Perses conjures souls into flesh again. Circe is the last and makes the proof. My fathers 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? Ae?tes said. My father did not answer. He sat strangely dumb. I felt struck dumb myself. The power of healing anothers 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 moreimpressive demonstration. A look flashed in his eyes, like teeth in a wolfs mouth. My fathers 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 isnew. Until it is decided, you will remain in these halls. Both of you. I expected no less, Ae?tes 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. Ae?tes 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 werent 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. Ae?tes laughed. You will get used to it. We are ourselves alone now. He did not seem alone. Every night he sat on my grandfathers 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, Pasipha? 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 Fathers 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 Ae?tes 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 Scyllas 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. Andyou 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 philosophers 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 thats 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 dont know. Of course you do. Its 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 Pasipha? 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 Ae?tes 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 Id asked Ae?tes if Glaucos feasted with the rest of the gods, he had grinned. Hes hiding that blue face of his. Hes 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. Ae?tes 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 rooms 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. Pasipha?s husband is a son of Zeus, and he will be sure she is held to her proper place. Ae?tes 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 grandmothers 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. Ae?tes 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 mothers 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 skys 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 lions-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. Ae?tes 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. Hes 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. Chapter Seven THE NEXT MORNING, I stepped into my fathers chariot and we lurched into the dark sky without a word. The air blew past us; night receded at every turning of the wheels. I looked over the side, trying to track the rivers and seas, the shadowed valleys, but we were going too fast, and I recognized nothing. What island is it? My father did not answer. His jaw was set, his lips bled pale with anger. My old burns were aching from standing so close to him. I closed my eyes. The lands streamed by and the wind ran across my skin. I imagined pitching over that golden rail into the open air below. It would feel good, I thought, before I hit. We landed with a jolt. I opened my eyes to see a high soft hill, thick with grass. My father stared straight ahead. I felt a sudden urge to fall on my knees and beg him to take me back, but instead I forced myself to step down onto the ground. The moment my foot touched, he and his chariot were gone. I stood alone in that grassy clearing. The breeze blew sharp against my cheeks, and the air had a fresh scent. I could not savor it. My head felt heavy, and my throat had begun to ache. I swayed. By now, Ae?tes was back on Colchis, drinking his milk and honey. My aunts would be laughing on their riverbanks, my cousins returned to their games. My father, of course, was overhead, shedding his light down on the world. All those years I had spent with them were like a stone tossed in a pool. Already, the ripples were gone. I had a little pride. If they did not weep, I would not either. I pressed my palms to my eyes until they cleared. I made myself look around. On the hilltop before me was a house, wide-porched, its walls built from finely fitted stone, its doors carved twice the height of a man. A little below stretched a hem of forests, and beyond that a glimpse of the sea. It was the forest that drew my eye. It was old growth, gnarled with oaks and lindens and olive groves, shot through with spearing cypress. Thats where the green scent came from, drifting up the grassy hillside. The trees shook themselves thickly in the sea-winds, and birds darted through the shadows. Even now I can remember the wonder I felt. All my life had been spent in the same dim halls, or walking the same stunted shore with its threadbare woods. I was not prepared for such profusion and I felt the sudden urge to throw myself in, like a frog into a pond. I hesitated. I was no wood-nymph. I did not have the knack of feeling my way over roots, of walking through brambles untouched. I could not guess what those shadows might conceal. What if there were sinkholes within? What if there were bears or lions? I stood there a long time fearing such things and waiting, as if someone would come and reassure me, say yes, you may go, it will be safe. My fathers chariot slipped over the sea and began to douse itself in the waves. The shadows of the forest deepened and the trunks seemed to twine against each other. It is too late to go now, I told myself. Tomorrow. The doors of the house were broad oak, banded with iron. They swung easily at my touch. Inside the air smelled of incense. There was a great-room set with tables and benches as if for a feast. A hearth anchored one end; at the other, a corridor led away to the kitchen and bedrooms. It was large enough to hold a dozen goddesses, and indeed I kept expecting to find nymphs and cousins around every turn. But no, that was part of my exile. To be utterly alone. What worse punishment could there be, my family thought, than to be deprived of their divine presence? Certainly the house itself was no punishment. Treasures shone on every side: carved chests, soft rugs and golden hangings, beds, stools, intricate tripods, and ivory statues. The windowsills were white marble, the shutters scrolled ash wood. In the kitchen, I ran my thumb across the knives, bronze and iron, but also nacre shell and obsidian. I found bowls of quartz crystal and wrought silver. Though the rooms were deserted, there was no speck of dust, and I would learn that none could cross the marble threshold. However I tracked upon it, the floor was always clean, the tables gleaming. The ashes vanished from the fireplace, the dishes washed themselves, and the firewood regrew overnight. In the pantry there were jars of oil and wine, bowls of cheese and barley-grain, always fresh and full. Among those empty, perfect rooms, I feltI could not say. Disappointed. There was a part of me, I think, that had hoped for a crag in the Caucasus after all, and an eagle diving for my liver. But Scylla was no Zeus, and I was no Prometheus. We were nymphs, not worth the trouble. There was more to it than that, though. My father might have left me in a hovel or a fishermans shack, on a bare beach with nothing but a tent. I thought back to his face when he spoke of Zeus decree, his clear, ringing rage. I had assumed it was all for me, but now, after my talks with Ae?tes, I began to understand more. The truce between the gods held only because Titans and Olympians each kept to their sphere. Zeus had demanded the discipline of Helios blood. Helios could not speak back openly, but he could make an answer of sorts, a message of defiance to rebalance the scales. Even our exiles live better than kings. You see how deep our strength runs? If you strike us, Olympian, we rise higher than before. That was my new home: a monument to my fathers pride. It was past sundown by then. I found the flint and struck it over the waiting tinder as I had seen Glaucos do so often, but never attempted myself. It took me several tries, and when the flames began to catch and spread at last, I felt a novel satisfaction. I was hungry so I went to the pantry, where the bowls brimmed with enough food to feed a hundred. I spooned some onto a plate and sat at one of the great oak tables in the hall. I could hear the sound of my breath. It struck me that I had never eaten by myself. Even when no one spoke to me or looked at me, there was always some cousin or sibling at my elbow. I rubbed the fine-grained wood. I hummed a little and listened to the sound being swallowed by the air. This is what it will be all my days, I thought. Despite the fire, shadows were gathering in the corners. Outside, birds had begun to scream. At least I thought they were birds. I felt the hairs stir on my neck, thinking again of those dark, thick trunks. I went to the shutters and closed them, I latched the door. I was used to the weight of all the earths rocks surrounding me, and my fathers power on top of that. The houses walls felt to me leaf-thin. Any claw would tear them open. Perhaps that is the secret of this place, I thought. My true punishment is yet to come. Stop, I told myself. I lit tapers, and made myself carry them down the hall to my room. In the daylight it had seemed large, and I had been pleased, but now I could not watch every corner at once. The feathers of the bed murmured against each other, and the shutter-wood creaked like the ropes of ships in a storm. All around me I felt the wild hollows of the island swelling in their dark. Until that moment I had not known how many things I feared. Huge, ghostly leviathans slithering up the hillside, nightworms squirming out of their burrows, pressing their blind faces to my door. Goat-footed gods eager to feed their savage appetites, pirates muffling their oars in my harbor, planning how they would take me. And what could I do? Pharmakis, Ae?tes named me, witch, but all my strength was in those flowers, oceans away. If anyone came, I would only be able to scream, and a thousand nymphs before me knew what good that did. The fear sloshed over me, each wave colder than the last. The still air crawled across my skin and shadows reached out their hands. I stared into the darkness, straining to hear past the beat of my own blood. Each moment felt the length of a night, but at last the sky took on a deepening texture and began to pale at its edge. The shadows ebbed away and it was morning. I stood up, whole and untouched. When I went outside, there were no prowling footprints, no slithering tail-marks, no gouges clawed in the door. Yet I did not feel foolish. I felt as if I had passed a great ordeal. I looked again into that forest. Yesterdaywas it only yesterday?I had waited for someone to come and tell me it was safe. But who would that be? My father, Ae?tes? That is what exile meant: no one was coming, no one ever would. There was fear in that knowledge, but after my long night of terrors it felt small and inconsequential. The worst of my cowardice had been sweated out. In its place was a giddy spark. I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began. I learned to braid my hair back, so it would not catch on every twig, and how to tie my skirts at the knee to keep the burrs off. I learned to recognize the different blooming vines and gaudy roses, to spot the shining dragonflies and coiling snakes. I climbed the peaks where the cypresses speared black into the sky, then clambered down to the orchards and vineyards where purple grapes grew thick as coral. I walked the hills, the buzzing meadows of thyme and lilac, and set my footprints across the yellow beaches. I searched out every cove and grotto, found the gentle bays, the harbor safe for ships. I heard the wolves howl, and the frogs cry from their mud. I stroked the glossy brown scorpions who braved me with their tails. Their poison was barely a pinch. I was drunk, as the wine and nectar in my fathers halls had never made me. No wonder I have been so slow, I thought. All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without the sea. Yet now look where I sail. At night I went home to my house. I did not mind its shadows anymore, for they meant my fathers gaze was gone from the sky and the hours were my own. I did not mind the emptiness either. For a thousand years I had tried to fill the space between myself and my family. Filling the rooms of my house was easy by comparison. I burned cedar in the fireplace, and its dark smoke kept me company. I sang, which had never been allowed before, since my mother said I had the voice of a drowning gull. And when I did get lonely, when I found myself yearning for my brother, or Glaucos as he had been, then there was always the forest. The lizards darted along the branches, the birds flashed their wings. The flowers, when they saw me, seemed to press forward like eager puppies, leaping and clamoring for my touch. I felt almost shy of them, but day by day I grew bolder, and at last I knelt in the damp earth before a clump of hellebore. The delicate blooms fluttered on their stalks. I did not need a knife to cut them, only the edge of my nail, which grew sticky with flecks of sap. I put the flowers in a basket covered with cloth and only uncovered them when I was home again, my shutters firmly closed. I did not think anyone would try to stop me, but I did not intend to tempt them to it. I looked at the blossoms lying on my table. They seemed shrunken, etiolated. I did not have the first idea of what I should do to them. Chop? Boil? Roast? There had been oil in my brothers ointment, but I did not know what kind. Would olive from the kitchen work? Surely not. It must be something fantastical, like seed-oil pressed from the fruits of the Hesperides. But I could not get that. I rolled a stalk beneath my finger. It turned over, limp as a drowned worm. Well, I said to myself, do not just stand there like a stone. Try something. Boil them. Why not? I had a little pride, as I have said, and that was good. More would have been fatal. Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over, and sung. Even after all that, it can fail, as gods do not. If my herbs are not fresh enough, if my attention falters, if my will is weak, the draughts go stale and rancid in my hands. By rights, I should never have come to witchcraft. Gods hate all toil, it is their nature. The closest we come is weaving or smithing, but these things are skills, and there is no drudgery to them since all the parts that might be unpleasant are taken away with power. The wool is dyed not with stinking vats and stirring spoons, but with a snap. There is no tedious mining, the ores leap willing from the mountain. No fingers are ever chafed, no muscles strained. Witchcraft is nothing but such drudgery. Each herb must be found in its den, harvested at its time, grubbed up from the dirt, culled and stripped, washed and prepared. It must be handled this way, then that, to find out where its power lies. Day upon patient day, you must throw out your errors and begin again. So why did I not mind? Why did none of us mind? I cannot speak for my brothers and sister, but my answer is easy. For a hundred generations, I had walked the world drowsy and dull, idle and at my ease. I left no prints, I did no deeds. Even those who had loved me a little did not care to stay. Then I learned that I could bend the world to my will, as a bow is bent for an arrow. I would have done that toil a thousand times to keep such power in my hands. I thought: this is how Zeus felt when he first lifted the thunderbolt. At first, of course, all I brewed were mistakes. Draughts that did nothing, pastes that crumbled and lay dead on the table. I thought that if some rue was good, more was better, that ten herbs mixed were superior to five, that I could let my mind wander and the spell would not wander with it, that I could begin making one draught and halfway through decide to make another. I did not know even the simplest herb-lore that any mortal would learn at her mothers knee: that wort plants boiled made a sort of soap, that yew burnt in the hearth sent up a choking smog, that poppies had sleep in their veins and hellebore death, and yarrow could close over wounds. All these things had to be worked and learned through errors and trials, burnt fingers and fetid clouds that sent me running outside to cough in the garden. At least, I thought in those early days, once I cast a spell, I would not have to learn it again. But even that was not true. However often I had used an herb before, each cutting had its own character. One rose would give up its secrets if it were ground, another must be pressed, a third steeped. Each spell was a mountain to be climbed anew. All I could carry with me from last time was the knowledge that it could be done. I pressed on. If my childhood had given me anything, it was endurance. Little by little I began to listen better: to the sap moving in the plants, to the blood in my veins. I learned to understand my own intention, to prune and to add, to feel where the power gathered and speak the right words to draw it to its height. That was the moment I lived for, when it all came clear at last and the spell could sing with its pure note, for me and me alone. I did not call dragons, or summon serpents. My earliest charms were silly things, whatever came into my head. I started with an acorn, for I had some thought that if the object were green and growing, nourished by water, my naiad blood might give me some help. For days, months, I rubbed that acorn with oils and salves, speaking words over it to make it sprout. I tried to mimic the sounds I had heard Ae?tes make when he had healed my face. I tried curses, and prayers too, but through it all the acorn kept its seed smugly within. I threw it out the window and got a new one and crouched over that for another half an age. I tried the spell when I was angry, when I was calm, when I was happy, when I was half distracted. One day I told myself that I would rather have no powers than try that spell again. What did I want with an oak seedling anyway? The island was full of them. What I really wanted was a wild strawberry, to slip sweetly down my irritable throat, and so I told that brown hull. It changed so fast my thumb sank into its soft, red body. I stared, and then I whooped with triumph, startling the birds outside from their trees. I brought a withered flower back to life. I banished flies from my house. I made the cherries blossom out of season and turned the fire vivid green. If Ae?tes had been there, he would have choked on his beard to see such kitchen-tricks. Yet because I knew nothing, nothing was beneath me. My powers lapped upon themselves like waves. I found I had a knack for illusion, summoning shadow crumbs for the mice to creep after, making pale minnows leap from the waves beneath a cormorants beak. I thought larger: a ferret to frighten off the moles, an owl to keep away the rabbits. I learned that the best time to harvest was beneath the moon, when dew and darkness concentrated sap. I learned what grew well in a garden, and what must be left to its place in the woods. I caught snakes and learned how to milk their teeth. I could coax a drop of venom from the tail of a wasp. I healed a dying tree, I killed a poisonous vine with a touch. But Ae?tes had been right, my greatest gift was transformation, and that was always where my thoughts returned. I stood before a rose, and it became an iris. A draught poured onto the roots of an ash tree changed it to a holm oak. I turned all my firewood to cedar so that its scent would fill my halls each night. I caught a bee and made it into a toad, and a scorpion into a mouse. There I discovered at last the limits of my power. However potent the mixture, however well woven the spell, the toad kept trying to fly, and the mouse to sting. Transformation touched only bodies, not minds. I thought of Scylla then. Did her nymph-self live still inside that six-headed monster? Or did plants grown from the blood of gods make the change a true one? I did not know. Into the air I said, Wherever you are, I hope you are finding your satisfaction. Which, of course, now I know she was. It was one day during that time that I found myself among the thickest brakes of the forest. I loved to walk the island, from its lowest shores to its highest haunts, seeking out the hidden mosses and ferns and vines, collecting their leaves for my charms. It was late afternoon, and my basket overflowed. I stepped around a bush, and the boar was there. I had known for some time that there were wild pigs on the island. Id heard them squealing and crashing in the brush, and often I would find some rhododendron trampled, or a stand of saplings rooted up. This was the first one I had seen. He was huge, even bigger than I had imagined a boar could be. His spine rose steep and black as the ridges of Mount Cynthos, and his shoulders were slashed with the thunderbolt scars of his fights. Only the bravest heroes face such creatures, and then they are armed with spears and dogs, archers and assistants, and usually half a dozen warriors besides. I had only my digging knife and my basket, and not a single spell-draught to hand. He stamped, and the white foam dripped from his mouth. He lowered his tusks and ground his jaws. His pig-eyes said: I can break a hundred youths and send their bodies back to wailing mothers. I will tear your entrails and eat them for my lunch. I fixed my gaze on his. Try, I said. For a long moment he stared at me. Then he turned and twitched off through the brush. I tell you, for all my spells, that was the first time I truly felt myself a witch. At my hearth that night, I thought of those prancing goddesses who carry birds on their shoulders, or have some fawn always nuzzling their hands, tripping delicately at their heels. I would put them to shame, I thought. I climbed to the highest peaks and found a lonely track: here a flower crushed, here the dirt turned a little and some bark clawed off. I brewed a potion with crocus and yellow jasmine, iris and cypress root dug at the moons full height. I sprinkled it, singing. I summon you. She came rippling through my door at the next dusk, her shoulder muscles hard as stones. She lay across my hearth, and rasped my ankles with her tongue. During the day, she brought me rabbits and fish. At night she licked honey from my fingers and slept upon my feet. Sometimes we would play, she stalking behind me, then leaping up to grapple me by the neck. I smelled the hot musk of her breath, felt the weight of her forepaws pressing on my shoulders. Look, I said, showing her the knife I had carried with me from my fathers halls, the one stamped with a lions face. What fool made this? They have never seen your like. She cracked her great brown mouth in a yawn. There was a bronze mirror in my bedroom, tall as the ceiling. When I passed it, I scarcely knew myself. My gaze seemed brighter, my face sharper, and there behind me paced my wild lion familiar. I could imagine what my cousins would say if they saw me: my feet dirty from working in the garden, my skirts knotted up around my knees, singing at the height of my frail voice. I wished that they would come. I wanted to see those goggle eyes of theirs as I walked among the dens of wolves, swam in the sea where the sharks fed. I could change a fish to a bird, I could wrestle with my lion, then lie across her belly, my hair loose around me. I wanted to hear them squeal and gasp, breath-struck. Oh, she looked at me! Now I will be a frog! Had I truly feared such creatures? Had I really spent ten thousand years ducking like a mouse? I understood now Ae?tes boldness, how he had stood before our father like a towering peak. When I did my magics, I felt that same span and heft. I tracked my fathers burning chariot across the sky. Well? What do you have to say to me? You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you. No answer came, and none from my aunt Moon either, those cowards. My skin was glowing, my teeth set. My lioness lashed her tail. Does no one have the courage? Will no one dare to face me? So you see, in my way, I was eager for what came. Chapter Eight IT WAS SUNSET, MY fathers face already dipped beneath the trees. I was working in my garden, staking the leggy vines, planting rosemary and aconite. I was singing too, some aimless air. The lion lay in the grass, her mouth bloodied from the wood-grouse she had flushed. I admit, the voice said, I am surprised to see you so plain after such boasting. A flower garden and braids. You might be any country girl. The young man was leaning against my house, watching me. His hair was loose and tousled, his face bright as a jewel. Though there was no light to catch them, his golden sandals gleamed. I knew who he was, of course I knew. The power shone from his face, unmistakable, keen as an unsheathed blade. An Olympian, the son of Zeus and his chosen messenger. That laughing gadfly of the gods, Hermes. I felt myself tremble, but I would not let him see it. Great gods smell fear like sharks smell blood, and they will devour you for it just the same. I stood. What did you expect? Oh, you know. A slim wand twirled idly in his fingers. Something more lurid. Dragonish. A troupe of dancing sphinxes. Blood dripping from the sky. I was used to my thick-shouldered uncles with their white beards, not such perfect, careless beauty. When sculptors shape their stone, they shape it after him. Is that what they say of me? Of course. Zeus is sure youre brewing poisons against us all, you and your brother both. You know how he frets. He smiled, easy, conspiratorial. As if the anger of Zeus were only a light jest. So you come as Zeus spy then? I prefer the word envoy. But no, in this matter, my father can do his own work. Im here because my brother is angry with me. Your brother, I said. Yes, he said. I think youve heard of him? From his cloak he drew a lyre, inlaid with gold and ivory, glowing like the dawn. Im afraid Ive stolen this, he said. And I need a place to shelter till the storm passes. I was hoping you might take pity upon me? Somehow I dont think hell look here. The hairs stood on the back of my neck. All who were wise feared the god Apollos wrath, silent as sunlight, deadly as plague. I had the impulse to look over my shoulder, to make sure he was not striding across the sky already, his gilded arrow pointed at my heart. But there was something in me that was sick of fear and awe, of gazing at the heavens and wondering what someone would allow me. Come in, I said, and led him through my door. I had grown up hearing the stories of Hermes daring: how as an infant he had risen from his cradle and made off with Apollos cattle, how he had slain the monstrous guardian Argos after coaxing each of his thousand eyes to sleep, how he could pry secrets out of a stone and charm even rival gods to do his will. It was all of it true. He could draw you in as if he were winding up a thread. He could spin you out upon a conceit until you were choking with laughter. I had scarcely known true intelligenceI had spoken to Prometheus for only a moment, and in all the rest of Oceanos halls most of what passed as cleverness was only archness and spite. Hermes mind was a thousand times sharper and more swift. It shone like light upon the waves, dazzling to blindness. That night he entertained me with tale after tale of the great gods and their foolishness. Lecherous Zeus turning into a bull to lure a pretty maiden. Ares, god of war, bested by two giants, who kept him crammed in a jar for a year. Hephaestus laying a trap for his wife Aphrodite, hoisting her in a golden net, still naked with her lover Ares, for all the gods to see. On and on he went, through the absurd vices, drunken brawls, and petty slapping squabbles, all told in that same slippery, grinning voice. I felt myself flushed and dizzied, as if I had taken my own draughts. Will you not be punished for coming here and breaking my exile? He smiled. Father knows I do what I like. And anyway, I break nothing. It is only you who are confined. The rest of the world may come and go as we please. I was surprised. But I thoughtis it not the greater punishment to force me to be alone? That depends on who visits you, doesnt it? But exile is exile. Zeus wanted you contained, and so you are. They didnt really think about it further. How do you know all this? I was there. Watching Zeus and Helios negotiate is always good entertainment. Like two volcanoes trying to decide if they should blow. He had fought in the great war, I remembered. He had seen the sky burn, and slain a giant whose head brushed the clouds. For all his lightness, I found I could imagine it. Tell me, I said, can you play that instrument? Or only steal it? He touched his fingers to the strings. The notes leapt out into the air, bright and silver-sweet. He gathered them into a melody as effortlessly as if he were a god of music himself, so that the whole room seemed to live inside the sound. He looked up, the fire caught in his face. Do you sing? That was another thing about him. He made you want to spill your secrets. Only for myself, I said. My voice is not pleasing to others. I am told it sounds like a gull crying. Is that what they said? You are no gull. You sound like a mortal. The confusion must have been plain on my face, for he laughed. Most gods have voices of thunder and rocks. We must speak soft to human ears, or they are broken to pieces. To us, mortals sound faint and thin. I remembered how gentle Glaucos words had sounded when he had first spoken to me. I had taken it for a sign. It is not common, he said, but sometimes lesser nymphs are born with human voices. Such a one are you. Why did no one tell me? And how could it be? There is no mortal in me, I am Titan only. He shrugged. Who can ever explain how divine bloodlines work? As for why no one said, I suspect they didnt know. I spend more time with mortals than most gods and have grown accustomed to their sounds. To me it is only another flavor, like season in food. But if you are ever among men, youll notice it: they wont fear you as they fear the rest of us. In a minute he had unraveled one of the great mysteries of my life. I raised my fingers to my throat as if I could touch the strangeness that lay there. A god with a mortals voice. It was a shock, and yet there was part of me that felt something almost like recognition. Play, I said. I began to sing, and the lyre followed my voice effortlessly, its timbre rising to sweeten my every phrase. When I finished, the flames were down to their coals and the moon veiled. His eyes shone like dark gems held to light. They were black, one of the marks of deep-running power, from the line of the oldest gods. For the first time it struck me how strange it was that we divide Titans from Olympians, when of course Zeus was born from Titan parents, and Hermes own grandfather was the Titan Atlas. The same blood runs in all our veins. Do you know the name of this island? I said. I would be a poor god of travelers if I did not know all the places in the world. And will you tell me? It is called Aiaia, he said. Aiaia. I tasted the sounds. They were soft, folding quietly as wings in the darkened air. You know it, he said. He was watching me closely. Of course. It is the place where my father threw his strength to Zeus and proved his loyalty. In the sky above this place, he vanquished a Titan giant, drenching the land with blood. It is quite a coincidence, he said, that your father would send you to this island among all the others. I could feel his power reaching for my secrets. In the old days I would have rushed forth with a brimming cup of answers, to give him all he wanted. But I was not the same as I had been. I owed him nothing. He would have of me only what I wanted to give. I rose and stood before him. I could feel my own eyes, yellow as river-stones. Tell me, I said, how do you know that your father is not right about my poisons? How do you know I will not drug you where you sit? I do not. Yet you would dare to stay? I dare anything, he said. And that is how we came to be lovers. Hermes returned often in the years that followed, winging through the dusk. He brought delicacies of the godswine stolen from Zeus own stores, the sweetest honey of Mount Hybla, where the bees drink only thyme and linden blossoms. Our conversations were pleasures, and our couplings were the same. Will you bear my child? he asked me. I laughed at him. No, never and never. He was not hurt. He liked such sharpness, for there was nothing in him that had any blood you might spill. He asked only for curiositys sake, because it was his nature to seek out answers, to press others for their weaknesses. He wanted to see how moonish I was over him. But all the sop in me was gone. I did not lie dreaming of him during the days, I did not speak his name into my pillow. He was no husband, scarcely even a friend. He was a poison snake, and I was another, and on such terms we pleased ourselves. He gave me the news that I had missed. In his travels he passed over every quarter of the world, picking up gossip as hems gather mud. He knew whose feasts Glaucos drank at. He knew how high the milk spurted in Colchis fountains. He told me that Ae?tes was well, arrayed in a cloak of dyed leopard skin. He had taken a mortal to wife, and had a babe in swaddling and another in the belly. Pasipha? still ruled Crete with her potions, and had in the meantime whelped a ships crew for her husband, half a dozen heirs and daughters both. Perses kept to the East, raising the dead with pails of cream and blood. My mother had gotten over her tears and added Mother of Witches to her titles, swanning with it among my aunts. We laughed over all of it, and when he left, I knew he told stories of me in turn: my dirt-black fingernails, my musky lion, the pigs that had begun coming to my door, truffling for slops and a scratch on the back. And, of course, how I had thrown myself upon him as a blushing virgin. Well? I had not blushed, but all the rest was true enough. I questioned him further, where Aiaia was, and how far it was from Egypt and Aethiopia and every other interesting place. I asked how my fathers mood waxed, and what the names of my nieces and nephews were, and what empires flourished new in the world. He answered everything, but when I asked him how far to those flowers I had given Glaucos and Scylla, he laughed at me. Do you think I will sharpen the lionesss claws for her? I made my voice as careless as I could. And what of that old Titan Prometheus on his rock. How fares he? How do you think? He loses a liver a day. Still? I have never understood why helping mortals made Zeus so angry. Tell me, he said, who gives better offerings, a miserable man or a happy one? A happy one, of course. Wrong, he said. A happy man is too occupied with his life. He thinks he is beholden to no one. But make him shiver, kill his wife, cripple his child, then you will hear from him. He will starve his family for a month to buy you a pure-white yearling calf. If he can afford it, he will buy you a hundred. But surely, I said, you have to reward him eventually. Otherwise, he will stop offering. Oh, you would be surprised how long he will go on. But yes, in the end, its best to give him something. Then he will be happy again. And you can start over. So this is how Olympians spend their days. Thinking of ways to make men miserable. Theres no cause for righteousness, he said. Your father is better at it than anyone. He would raze a whole village if he thought it would get him one more cow. How many times had I gloated inwardly over my fathers heaping altars? I lifted my cup and drank, so he would not see the flush on my cheeks. I suppose you might go and visit Prometheus, I said. You and your wings. Bring him something for comfort. And why should I do that? For noveltys sake, of course. The first good deed in your dissolute life. Arent you curious what it would feel like? He laughed, but I did not press him further. He was still, always, an Olympian, still Zeus son. I was allowed license because it amused him, but I never knew when that amusement might end. You can teach a viper to eat from your hands, but you cannot take away how much it likes to bite. Spring passed into summer. One night, when Hermes and I were lingering over our wine, I finally asked him about Scylla herself. Ah. His eyes lit. I wondered when we would come to her. What would you know? Is she unhappy? But he would have laughed at such a mewling question, and he would have been right to. My witchcraft, the island, my lion, all of them sprang from her transformation. There was no honesty in regretting what had given me my life. I never heard what happened to her after she dived into the sea. Do you know where she is? Not far from hereless than a days journey by mortal ship. She has found a strait she likes. On one side is a whirlpool that sucks down ships and fish and whatever else passes. On the other, a cliff face with a cave for her to hide her head. Any ship which would avoid the whirlpool is driven right into her jaws, and so she feeds. Feeds, I said. Yes. She eats sailors. Six at a time, one for each mouth, and if the oars are too slow, she takes twelve. A few of them try to fight her, but you can imagine how that works out. You can hear them screaming for quite a ways. I was frozen to my chair. I had always imagined her swimming in the deeps, sucking cold flesh from squids. But no. Scylla had always wanted the light of day. She had always wanted to make others weep. And now she was a ravening monster filled with teeth and armored with immortality. Can no one stop her? Zeus could, or your father, if they wished to. But why would they? Monsters are a boon to gods. Imagine all the prayers. My throat had closed over. Those men she had eaten were sailors as Glaucos had been, ragged, desperate, worn thin with fear. All dead. All of them cold smoke, marked with my name. Hermes was watching me, his head cocked like a curious bird. He was waiting for my reaction. Would I be skimmed milk for crying, or a harpy with a heart of stone? There was nothing between. Anything else did not fit cleanly in the laughing tale he wanted to spin of it. I let my hand fall on my lions head, felt her great, hard skull beneath my fingers. She never slept when Hermes was there. Her eyes were lidded and watchful. Scylla never was satisfied with just one, I said. He smiled. A bitch with a cliff for a heart. I meant to tell you, he said. I heard a prophecy of you. I had it from an old seeress who had left her temple and was wandering the fields giving fortunes. I was used to the swift movements of his mind, and now I was grateful for them. And you just happened to be passing when she was speaking of me? Of course not. I gave her an embossed gold cup to tell me all she knew of Circe, daughter of Helios, witch of Aiaia. Well? She said that a man named Odysseus, born from my blood, will come one day to your island. And? Thats it, he said. Thats the worst prophecy Ive ever heard, I said. He sighed. I know. I think I lost my cup. I did not dream of him, as I said. I did not braid his name with mine. At night we lay together, and by midnight he was gone, and I could rise and step into my woods. Often my lion would pace beside me. It was the deepest pleasure, walking in the cool air, the damp leaves brushing at our legs. Sometimes I would stop to harvest this flower or that. But the flower I truly wanted, I waited for. One month I let go by after Hermes and I first spoke, and then another. I did not want him watching. He had no place in this. It was mine. I did not bring a torch. My eyes shone in the dark better than any owls. I walked through the shadowed trees, through the quiet orchards, the groves and brakes, across the sands, and up the cliffs. The birds were still, and the beasts. All the sounds were the air among the leaves and my own breath. And there it was hidden in the leaf mold, beneath the ferns and mushrooms: a flower small as a fingernail, white as milk. The blood of that giant which my father had spilled in the sky. I plucked a stem out of the tangle. The roots clung hard a moment before yielding. They were black and thick, and smelled of metal and salt. The flower had no name that I knew, so I called it moly, root, from the antique language of the gods. Oh, Father, did you know the gift you gave me? For that flower, so delicate it could dissolve beneath your stepping foot, carried within it the unyielding power of apotrope, the turning aside of evil. Curse-breaker. Ward and bulwark against ruin, worshipped like a god, for it was pure. The only thing in all the world you could be certain would not turn against you. Day by day, the island bloomed. My garden climbed the walls of my house, breathed its scent through my windows. I left the shutters open by then. I did what I liked. If you had asked me, I would have said I was happy. Yet always I remembered. Cold smoke, marked with my name. Chapter Nine IT WAS MORNING, THE sun just over the trees, and I was in the garden cutting anemones for my table. The pigs snuffled at their slops. One of the boars grew fractious, shoving and grunting to air his authority. I caught his eye. Yesterday, I saw you blowing bubbles in the stream, and the day before the spotted sow sent you off with a bitten ear and nothing more. So you may behave. He huffed at the dirt, then flopped on his belly and subsided. Do you always talk to pigs when I am gone? Hermes stood in his traveling cloak, his broad-brimmed hat tilted over his eyes. I like to think of it the other way around, I said. What brings you out in the honest daylight? A ship is coming, he said. I thought you might want to know. I stood. Here? What ship? He smiled. He always liked seeing me at a loss. What will you give me if I tell you? Begone, I said. I prefer you in the dark. He laughed and vanished. I made myself go about the morning as I usually would, in case Hermes watched, but I felt the tension in myself, the taut anticipation. I could not keep my eyes from flicking to the horizon. A ship. A ship with visitors that amused Hermes. Who? They came at mid-afternoon, resolving out of the bright mirror of the waves. The vessel was ten times the size of Glaucos, and even at a distance I could see how fine it was: sleek and brightly painted, with a huge rearing prow-piece. It cut through the sluggish air straight towards me, its oarsmen rowing steadily. As they approached, I felt that old eager jump in my throat. They were mortals. The sailors dropped the anchor, and a single man leapt over the low side and splashed to shore. He followed the seam of beach and woods until he found a path, a small pig trail that wound upwards through the acanthus spears and laurel groves, past the thorn-bush thicket. I lost sight of him then, but I knew where the trail led. I waited. He checked when he saw my lion, but only for a moment. With his shoulders straight and unbowed, he knelt to me in the clearings grass. I realized I knew him. He was older, the skin of his face more lined, but it was the same man, his head still shaved, his eyes clear. Of all the mortals on the earth, there are only a few the gods will ever hear of. Consider the practicalities. By the time we learn their names, they are dead. They must be meteors indeed to catch our attention. The merely good: you are dust to us. Lady, he said, I am sorry to trouble you. You have not been trouble yet, I said. Please stand if you like. If he noticed my mortal voice, he gave no sign. He stood upI will not say gracefully, for he was too solidly built for thatbut easily, like a door swinging on a well-fitted hinge. His eyes met mine without flinching. He was used to gods, I thought. And witches too. What brings the famous Daedalus to my shores? I am honored you would know me. His voice was steady as a west wind, warm and constant. I come as a messenger from your sister. She is with child, and her time approaches. She asks that you attend her delivery. I eyed him. Are you certain you have come to the right place, messenger? There has never been love between my sister and me. She does not send to you for love, he said. The breeze blew, carrying the scent of linden flowers. At its back, the muddy stink of the pigs. Im told my sister has bred half a dozen children each more easily than the last. She cannot die in childbirth and her infants thrive with the strength of her blood. So why does she need me? He spread his hands, deft-looking and thickened with muscle. Pardon, lady, I can say no more, but she bids me tell you that if you do not help her there is no one else who can. It is your art she wants, lady. Yours alone. So Pasipha? had heard of my powers and decided they could be of use to her. It was the first compliment I had had from her in my life. Your sister instructed me to say besides that she has permission from your father for you to go. Your exile is lifted for this. I frowned. This was all strange, very strange. What was important enough to make her go to my father? And if she needed more magic, why not summon Perses? It seemed like some sort of trick, but I could not understand why my sister would bother. I was no threat to her. I could feel myself being tempted. I was curious, of course, but it was more than that. This was a chance to show her what I had become. Whatever trap she might set, she could not catch me in it, not anymore. What a relief to hear of my reprieve, I said. I cannot wait to be freed from my terrible prison. The terraced hills around us glowed with spring. He did not smile. There isone more thing. I am instructed to tell you that our path lies through the straits. What straits? But I saw the answer in his face: the dark stains under his eyes, the weary grief. Sickness rose in my throat. Where Scylla dwells. He nodded. She ordered you to come that way as well? She did. How many did you lose? Twelve, he said. We were not fast enough. How could I have forgotten who my sister was? She would never just ask a favor, always she must have a whip to drive you to her will. I could see her bragging and laughing to Minos. Circes a fool for mortals, I hear. I hated her more than I ever had. It was all so cruelly done. I imagined stalking into my house, slamming the door on its great hinge. Too bad, Pasipha?. You will have to find some other fool. But then six more men, or twelve, would die. I scoffed at myself. Who said they would live if I went? I knew no spells to ward off monsters. And Scylla would be enraged when she saw me. I would only bring more of her fury upon them. Daedalus was watching me, his face shadowed. Far beyond his shoulder, my fathers chariot was slipping into the sea. In their dusty palace rooms, astronomers were even now tracking its sunset glory, hoping their calculations would hold. Their bony knees trembled, thinking of the headsmans axe. I gathered up my clothes, my bag of simples. I closed the door behind me. There was nothing else to do. The lion could take care of herself. I am ready, I said. The ships style was new to me, trim and low in the water. Its hull was beautifully painted with rolling waves and curving dolphins, and by the stern an octopus stretched its snaky arms. As the captain hauled at the anchor, I walked up to the prow to examine the figurehead I had seen. It was a young girl in a dancing dress. Her face bore a look of happy surprise, eyes wide, lips just parting, her hair loose over her shoulders. Her small hands were clasped to her chest and she was poised on her toes as if music were about to start. Each detail of it, the curls of her hair, the folds of cloth, was so vivid that I thought at any moment she truly would step into the air. Yet that was not even the real miracle. The work showed, I cannot say how, a glimpse of the girls self. The searching cleverness in her gaze, the determined grace of her brow. Her excitement and innocence, easy and green as grass. I did not have to ask whose hands had shaped it. A wonder of the mortal world, my brother had called Daedalus, but this was a wonder in any world. I pored over its pleasures, finding a new one every moment: the small dimple in her chin, the knob of her ankle, coltish with youth. A marvel it was, but also a message. I had been raised at my fathers feet and knew a boast of power when I saw it. Another king, if he had such a treasure, would keep it under guard in his most fortified hall. Minos and Pasipha? had set it on a ship, exposed to brine and sun, to pirates and sea-wrack and monsters. As if to say: This is a trifle. We have a thousand more, and better yet the man who makes them. The drumbeat drew my attention away. The sailors had taken their benches, and I felt the first judders of motion. The harbor waters began to slide past us. My island dwindled behind. I turned my eye to the men filling the deck around me. There were thirty-eight in all. At the stern five guards paced in capes and golden armor. Their noses were lumpen, twisted from too many breakings. I remembered Ae?tes sneering at them: Minos thugs, dressed up like princes. The rowers were the pick of Knossos mighty navy, so large the oars looked dainty in their hands. Around them, the other sailors moved swiftly, raising a canopy to keep off the sun. At Minos and Pasipha?s wedding, the huddle of mortals I had glimpsed seemed distant and blurred, as alike as leaves on a tree. But here, beneath the sky, each face was relentlessly distinct. This one was thick, this one smooth, this one bearded with a hooked nose and narrow chin. There were scars and calluses and scrapes, age-lines and cowlicks of hair. One had draped a wet cloth around his neck against the heat. Another wore a bracelet made by childish hands, and a third had a head shaped like a bullfinchs. It made me dizzy to realize that this was but a fraction of a fraction of all the men the world had bred. How could such variation endure, such endless iteration of minds and faces? Did the earth not go mad? May I bring you a seat? Daedalus said. I turned, glad for the respite of his single face. Daedalus could not have been called handsome, but his features had a pleasing sturdiness. I prefer to stand, I said. I gestured to the prow-piece. She is beautiful. He inclined his head, a man used to such compliments. Thank you. Tell me something. Why does my sister have you under watch? When we had stepped on board, the largest guard, the leader, had roughly searched him. Ah. He smiled slightly. Minos and Pasipha? fear that I do not fullyappreciate their hospitality. I remembered Ae?tes saying: Pasipha? has him trapped. Surely you might have escaped them on the way. I might escape them often. But Pasipha? has something of mine I will not leave. I waited for more, but it did not come. His hands rested on the rail. The knuckles were battered, the fingers hatched with white nicks of scars. As though he had plunged them into broken wood or shards of glass. In the straits, I said. You saw Scylla? Not clearly. The cliff was hidden in spray and fog, and she moved too quickly. Six heads, striking twice, with teeth as long as a leg. I had seen the stains on the deck. They had been scrubbed, yet the blood had soaked deep. All that was left of twelve lives. My stomach twisted with guilt, as Pasipha? had meant it to. You should know I was the one who did it, I said. The one who made Scylla what she is. That is why I am exiled, and why my sister had you take this route. I watched his face for surprise or disgust, even terror. But he only nodded. She told me. Of course she had. She was a poisoner at heart; she wanted to be sure I came as villain, not savior. Except this time it was nothing but the truth. There is something I do not understand, I said. For all my sisters cruelty she is not often foolish. Why would she risk you on this errand? I earned my place here myself. I am forbidden to say more, but when we arrive in Crete, I think you will understand. He hesitated. Do you know if there is anything we can do against her? Scylla? Above us, the sun burned away the last shreds of cloud. The men panted, even under the canopy. I dont know, I said. I will try. We stood in silence beside that leaping girl as the sea fell away. That night we camped on the shore of a flourishing green land. Around their fires, the men were tense and quiet, muffled by dread. I could hear their whispers, the wine sloshing as they passed it. No man wanted to lie awake imagining tomorrow. Daedalus had marked out a small space for me with a bedroll, but I left it. I could not bear to be hemmed in by all those breathing, anxious bodies. It was strange to tread upon earth other than my own. Where I expected a grove, there came a deer thicket. Where I thought there would be pigs, a badger showed its teeth. The terrain was flatter than my island, the forests low, the flowers in different combinations. I saw a bitter almond tree, a flowered cherry. My fingers itched to harvest their fat power. I bent and plucked a poppy, just to hold its color in my hand. I could feel the throb of its black seeds. Come, make us into magic. I did not obey. I was thinking of Scylla, trying to piece together an image from everything I had heard of her: six mouths, six heads, twelve dangling feet. But the more I tried, the more it slipped away. Instead I saw her face as it had been in our halls, round and laughing. The curve of her wrist had been like a swans neck. Her chin would tilt delicately to whisper some morsel of gossip in my sisters ear. Beside them, my brother Perses had sat smirking. He used to toy with Scyllas hair, winding it around his finger. She would turn and slap his shoulder, and the sound would echo across the hall. They both laughed, for they loved to be at the center always, and I remembered wondering why my sister did not mind such displays, for she allowed none near Perses but herself. Yet she only watched and smiled. I thought I had passed those years in my fathers halls sightless as a mole, but now more details came back to me. The green robe Scylla used to wear at special feasts, her silver sandals with lapis lazuli on the strap. There was a gold pin with a cat at its end that kept her hair up from her neck. She had it fromThebes, I thought. Thebes of Egypt, some admirer there, some beast-headed god. What had happened to that bauble? Was it still lying on the grass beside the water, with her discarded clothes? I had come to a small rise, crowded with black poplars. I walked among their furrowed trunks. One of them had been struck recently by lightning, and the bole bore a charred, oozing wound. I put my finger to the burnt sap. I could feel its force, and was sorry I had not brought an extra bottle to gather it. It made me think of Daedalus, that upright man with fire in his bones. What was the thing he would not leave behind? His face when he had spoken of it had been careful, his words placed as if they were tiles in a fountain. It must be a lover, I thought. Some pretty handmaid of the palace, or else some handsome groom. My sister could smell such intrigues a year away. Perhaps she had even ordered them to his bed, as the hook to catch the fish. But as I tried to picture their faces, I realized I did not believe in them. Daedalus did not seem like a man newly heart-struck, nor an old lover, with a wife of many years molded to his side. I could not imagine him in a pair, only singular and alone. Gold, then? An invention he had made? I thought: if I can keep him alive tomorrow, perhaps I will find out. The moon was passing overhead, and the night with it. Daedalus voice spoke again in my ears. Her teeth are long as a leg. Cold fear ran through me. What had I been thinking, that I could stand against such a creature? Daedalus throat would be ripped open, my own flesh snatched up in her mouths. What would I become after she was finished with me? Ash, smoke? Immortal bones dragging across the bottom of the sea. My feet had found the shore. I walked it, cool and gray. I listened to the murmur of the waves, the cries of night birds, but if I am honest I was listening for more than that: the quick rush through the air that I had come to know. Each second, I hoped Hermes would land poised before me, laughing, goading. So, witch of Aiaia, what will you do tomorrow? I thought of begging him for help, the sand beneath my knees, my palms upstretched. Or perhaps I would knock him down to the earth and please him that way, for he loved most of all to be surprised. I could hear the tale he would tell later. She was so desperate, she was on me like a cat. He should lie with my sister, I thought. They would like each other. It struck me for the first time that perhaps he had. Perhaps they lay together often and laughed at my dullness. Perhaps all this had been his idea, and that was why he had come this morning, to taunt me and gloat. My mind played over our conversation, sifting it for meaning. See how quickly he made one a fool? That was what he desired most of all: to drive others into doubt, keep them wondering and fretting, stumbling behind his dancing feet. I spoke out to the darkness, to any silent wings that hovered there. I do not care if you lie with her. Have Perses too, he is the handsomer. You will never be such as I am jealous for. Perhaps he was listening, perhaps he was not. It did not matter, he would not come. It was the better jest to see what extremes I would try, to see how I would curse and flounder. My father would not help me either. Ae?tes might, if only to feel the flex of his power, but he was a world away. I could no more reach him than I could fly into the air. I was even more desolate than my sister, I thought. I came for her, but there was no one who would come for me. The thought was steadying. After all, I had been alone my whole life. Ae?tes, Glaucos, these were only pauses in the long stretch of my solitude. Kneeling, I dug my fingers into the sand. I felt the rub of grains beneath my nails. A memory drifted through me. My father speaking our old hopeless law to Glaucos: no god may undo what another has done. But I was the one who had done it. The moon passed over us. The waves pressed their cold mouths to my feet. Elecampane, I thought. Ash and olive and silver fir. Henbane with burnt cornel bark and, at the base of all, moly. Moly, to break a curse, to ward off that evil thought of mine that had changed her in the first place. I brushed away the sand and stood, my bag of simples hanging from my shoulder. As I walked, the bottles rang softly, like goats shaking their bells. The smells wafted around me, familiar as my own skin: earth and clinging roots, salt and iron blood. The next morning the men were gray and silent. One oiled the oarlocks to keep them from squeaking, another scrubbed at the stained deck, his face red, though whether from sun or grief I could not tell. In the stern a third with a black beard was praying and pouring wine onto the waves. None looked at meI was Pasipha?s sister, after all, and they had long since given up any thought of help from her. But I could feel their tension pressing thickly into the air, the choking terror rising in them moment by moment. Death was coming. Do not think of it, I told myself. If you hold firm, none will die today. The guard captain had yellowed eyes set in a swollen face. His name was Polydamas and he was large, but I was a goddess, and we were of a height. I need your cloak, I said to him, and your tunic, at once. His eyes narrowed, and I could see the reflexive no in them. I would come to know this type of man, jealous of his little power, to whom I was only a woman. Why? he said. Because I do not desire the death of your comrades. Do you feel otherwise? The words carried up the deck, and thirty-seven pairs of eyes looked up. He stripped off his clothes and handed them to me. They were the finest on board, extravagant white-combed wool edged with deep purple, sweeping the deck. Daedalus had come to stand by me. May I help? I gave him the cloak to hold up. Behind it, I disrobed and drew on the tunic. The armholes gaped and the waist billowed. The smell of sour human flesh enveloped me. Will you help me with the cloak? Daedalus draped it around me, fastening it by its golden octopus pin. The cloth hung heavy as blankets, loose and slipping from my shoulders. Im sorry to say, you dont look like much of a man. Im not meant to look like a man, I said. Im meant to look like my brother. Scylla loved him once, perhaps she still does. I touched the paste I had prepared to my lips, hyacinth and honey, ash flowers and aconite crushed with the bark of walnuts. I had cast illusions on animals and plants before, but never upon myself, and I felt a sudden, plunging doubt. I forced the thought away. Fear of failure was the worst thing for any spell. I focused instead on Perses: his lounging, smug face, his puffy muscles and thick neck, his long-fingered, indolent hands. Each of these I summoned in turn, willing them into me. When I opened my eyes, Daedalus was staring. Put the steadiest men at the oars, I said to him. My voice had changed too, it was deep and swollen with divine hauteur. They must not stop for anything. No matter what. He nodded. He was holding a sword, and I saw that the other men were similarly armed with spears and daggers and crude cudgels. No, I said. I raised my voice for the whole ship. She is immortal. Weapons are useless, and you will need free hands to keep the ship moving forward. At once came the rasp of blades being sheathed, the thunk of spears set down. Even Polydamas, in his borrowed tunic, obeyed. I almost wanted to laugh. I had never been given such deference in my life. Is that what it was like to be Perses? But already I could make out the faint outline of the straits on the horizon. I turned to Daedalus. Listen, I said. There is a chance that the spell will not fool her and she will know me. If she does, be sure you are not standing near. Be sure none of the men are. The mist came first. It closed in wet and heavy, obscuring the cliffs, then the sky itself. We could see little, and the sound of the sucking whirlpool filled our ears. That whirlpool was of course the reason Scylla had chosen these straits. To avoid its pull, ships must steer close to the opposite cliff. It brought them right beneath her teeth. We pushed on through the thick air. As we entered the straits, the sound grew hollowed, echoing off the stone walls. My skin, the deck, the rail: every surface was slick with spray. The water foamed and an oar scraped the rock-face. A small sound, but the men flinched as if it were a thunderclap. Above us, buried in the fog, was the cave, and Scylla. We moved, I thought we did, but in such grayness it was impossible to tell how far, or fast. The oarsmen were trembling with effort and fear, and the oarlocks creaked despite their oil. I counted the moments. Surely we were beneath her now. She would be creeping to the caves opening and smelling out the plumpest. The sweat was drenching the mens tunics, their shoulders hunched. Those not rowing crouched behind coils of rope, the mast base, any cover they could find. I strained my eyes upwards, and she came. She was gray as the air, as the cliff itself. I had always imagined she would look like something: a snake or an octopus, a shark. But the truth of her was overwhelming, an immensity that my mind fought to take in. Her necks were longer than ship masts. Her six heads gaped, hideously lumpen, like melted lava stone. Black tongues licked her sword-length teeth. Her eyes were fixed on the men, oblivious in their sweating fear. She crept closer, slipping over the rocks. A reptilian stench struck me, foul as squirming nests underground. Her necks wove a little in the air, and from one of her mouths I saw a gleaming strand of saliva stretch and fall. Her body was not visible. It was hidden back in the mist with her legs, those hideous, boneless things that Selene had spoken of so long ago. Hermes had told me how they clung inside her cave like the curled ends of hermit crabs when she lowered herself to feed. Her necks had begun to ripple and bunch back on themselves. She was gathering to strike. Scylla! I cried with my gods voice. She screamed. The sound was a piercing chaos, like a thousand dogs howling at once. Some of the rowers dropped their oars to cover their ears. At the edge of my vision I saw Daedalus push one to the side and take his place. I could not worry for him now. Scylla, I cried again. It is Perses! I have sailed a year to find you. She stared at me, her eyes dead holes in gray flesh. From one of her throats came a strangled sound. She had no vocal cords anymore. My bitch sister is exiled for what she did to you, I said, but she deserved worse. What vengeance do you desire? Tell me. Pasipha? and I will do it. I was making myself speak slowly. Each moment was another beat of the oars. Those twelve eyes pinned me. I could see the stains of old blood around her mouth, the shreds of flesh still hanging from her teeth. I felt my gorge rise. We have been searching out a cure for you. A powerful drug to turn you back. We miss you as you were. My brother would never have talked so, but it did not seem to matter. She was listening, coiling and uncoiling along the rocks, keeping pace with our ship. How many oar strokes had passed? A dozen? A hundred? I could see her dull mind working. A god? What does a god do here? Scylla, I said. Will you have it? Will you have our cure? She hissed. The breath from her gullet was rotten and hot as a fire. But already I had lost her attention. Two of her heads had turned to watch the men at their oars. The others were beginning to follow. I saw her necks bunch again. Look, I cried. Here it is! I lifted the open bottle in the air. Only one neck turned back to see, but that was enough. I hefted the draught and threw it. It hit her in the back of her teeth, and I watched her throat ripple as she swallowed. I spoke the spell to change her back. For a moment, nothing happened. Then she shrieked, a sound to crack open the world. Her heads whipped, and she dived towards me. I had time only to grab hold of the mast. Run, I thought, at Daedalus. She struck the ships stern. The deck popped like driftwood, and a length of rail tore away. Splinters flew. Men were tumbling around me, and I would have fallen if I had not been gripping the mast. I heard Daedalus crying orders but could not see him. Already her adder necks were rearing back again and this time, I knew, she would not miss. She would strike the deck itself, crack the ship in half, then pluck us from the water one by one. But the blow did not come. Her heads smacked into the waves behind us. She jerked, lunging against the water, snapping those huge jaws like a dog fighting its leash. It took my muddy brain a moment to understand: she had reached the end of her tether. Her legs could stretch no farther from their hold in her cave. We were past. She seemed to realize it at the same time I did. She screamed in rage, slamming our wake with her heads, throwing up huge waves. The boat tipped, gulping sea over its low sides and back. Men grappled at the ropes, their legs trailing in the water, but they held on and each moment we were further away. She beat the cliff-side, howling her frustration, until the mist closed over her and she was gone. I leaned my forehead against the mast. The clothes were slipping off my shoulders. The cloak dragged at my neck, and my skin prickled with heat. The spell had ended. I was myself again. Goddess. Daedalus was kneeling. The other men were ranged on their knees behind. Their facesthick and haggard, scarred and bearded and burntwere gray and shaken. They bore scrapes and lumps from being thrown across the deck. I scarcely saw them. Before me was Scylla, her ravening mouths and those dead, empty eyes. She had not known me, I thought. Not as Perses or anything. Only the novelty of my being a god had momentarily checked her. Her mind was gone. Lady, Daedalus said. We will make sacrifice to you every day of our lives for this. You have saved us. You brought us through the straits alive. The men echoed him, murmuring prayers, their great hands lifted like platters. A few pressed their foreheads to the deck, in the Eastern style. Such worship was the payment my kind demanded for services rendered. The bile rose in my throat. You fools, I said. I am the one who made that creature. I did it for pride and vain delusion. And you thank me? Twelve of your men are dead for it, and how many thousands more to come? That drug I gave her is the strongest I have. Do you understand, mortals? The words seared the air. The light from my eyes beat down upon them. I will never be free of her. She cannot be changed back, not now, not ever. What she is, she will remain. She will feast on your kind for all eternity. So get up. Get up and get to your oars, and let me not hear you speak again of your imbecile gratitude or I will make you sorry for it. They cringed and shook like the weak vessels they were, stuttering to their feet and creeping away. Above, the sky was cloudless, and the heat pinned the air to the deck. I yanked off the cloak. I wanted the sun to burn me. I wanted it to scorch me down to bone. Chapter Ten FOR THREE DAYS I stood at that prow. We did not stay over on an island again. The oarsmen worked in shifts, sleeping on the deck. Daedalus repaired the rail, then took his turn among them. He was unfailingly polite, offering food and wine, a bedroll, but he did not linger. What did I expect? I had loosed my wrath on him as if I were my father. One more thing that I had ruined. We reached the island of Crete just before noon on the seventh day. The sun threw off great sheets of light from the water, turning the sail incandescent. Around us ships crowded the bay: Mycenaean barges, Phoenician traders, Egyptian galleys, Hittites and Aethiopians and Hesperians. All the merchants who passed through these waters wanted the rich city of Knossos as their customer, and Minos knew it. He welcomed them with wide, safe moorings and agents to collect for the privilege of using them. The inns and brothels belonged to Minos also, and the gold and jewels flowed like a great river to his hands. The captain aimed us squarely at the first mooring, kept open for royal ships. The noise and motion of the docks clattered around me: men running, shouting, heaving boxes onto decks. Polydamas spoke a word to the harbormaster, then turned to us. You are to come at once. You and the craftsman both. Daedalus gestured that I should go first. We followed Polydamas up the docks. Before us, the huge limestone stairs wavered in the heat. Men streamed past us, servants and nobles alike, their shoulders sun-darkened and bare. Above, the palace of mighty Knossos glowed on its hill like a hive. We climbed. I heard Daedalus breaths behind me and Polydamas in front. The steps were worn smooth from years of endless hurrying feet. At last we reached the top and crossed the threshold into the palace. The blinding light vanished. Cool darkness flowed over my skin. Daedalus and Polydamas hesitated, blinking. My eyes were not mortal and needed no time to adjust. I saw at once the beauty of that place, even greater than the last time I had come. The palace was like a hive indeed, each hall leading to an ornate chamber, and each chamber to another hall. Windows were cut in the walls to let in thick squares of golden sun. Intricate murals unrolled themselves on every side: dolphins and laughing women, boys gathering flowers, and deep-chested bulls tossing their horns. Outside in tiled pavilions silver fountains ran, and servants hurried among columns reddened with hematite. Over every doorway hung a labrys, the double-axe of Minos. I remembered that he had given Pasipha? a necklace with a labrys pendant at their wedding. She had held it as if it were a worm, and when the ceremony came her neck bore only her own onyx and amber. Polydamas guided us through the twisting passages towards the queens quarters. There it was more lavish still, the paintings rich with ochre and blue copper, but the windows had been covered over. Instead there were golden torches and leaping braziers. Cunningly recessed skylights let in light but no glimpse of sky; Daedalus work, I supposed. Pasipha? had never liked our fathers prying gaze. Polydamas stopped before a door scrolled with flowers and waves. The queen is within, he said, and knocked. We stood in the still and shadowed air. I could hear nothing beyond that heavy wood, but I became aware of Daedalus ragged breath beside me. His voice was low. Lady, he said, I have offended you and I am sorry. But I am sorrier still for what you will find inside. I wish The door opened. A handmaid stood breathless before us, her hair pinned in the Cretan style at the top of her head. The queen is in her labors she began, but my sisters voice cut across her. Is it them? At the rooms center, Pasipha? lay upon a purple couch. Her skin gleamed with sweat, and her belly was shockingly distended, swollen out like a tumor from her slender frame. I had forgotten how vivid she was, how beautiful. Even in her pain, she commanded the room, drawing all the light to herself, leeching the world around her pale as mushrooms. She had always been the most like our father. I stepped through the door. Twelve dead, I said. Twelve men for a joke and your vanity. She smirked, rising up to meet me. It seemed only fair to let Scylla have her chance at you, dont you think? Let me guess: you tried to change her back. She laughed at what she saw in my face. Oh, I knew you would! You made a monster and all you can think of is how sorry you are. Alas, poor mortals, I have put them in danger! She was as quicksilver cruel as ever. It was a relief of sorts. It was you who put them in danger, I said. But you are the one who failed to save them. Tell me, did you weep as you watched them die? I forced my voice to stay even. You are in error, I said. I saw no men die. The twelve were lost on the way out. She did not even pause. No matter. More will die on every ship that passes. She tapped a finger to her chin. How many do you think it will be, in a year? A hundred? A thousand? She was showing her mink teeth, trying to get me to melt like all those naiads in Oceanos halls. But there was no wound she could give me that I had not already given myself. This is not the way to get my help, Pasipha?. Your help! Please. I am the one who got you off that sand-spit of an island. I hear you sleep with lions and boars for company. But thats an improvement for you, isnt it? After Glaucos the squid. If you dont need me, I said, I will happily go back to my sand-spit. Oh, come, sister, dont be so sour, its only a jest. And look how grown you are, slipping past Scylla! I knew I was right to call you instead of that braggart Ae?tes. You can stop making that face. Ive already set aside gold for the families of the men who were lost. Gold does not give back a life. I can tell you are not a queen. Believe me, most of the families would rather have the gold. Now, are there any other But she did not finish. She grunted and dug her nails into the arm of a handmaiden kneeling at her feet. I had not noticed the girl before, but I saw now that the skin of her arm was purple and smeared with blood. Out, I said to her. Out, all. This is no place for you. I felt a spurt of satisfaction at how fast the attendants fled. I faced my sister. Well? Her face was still contorted with pain. What do you think? Its been days and it hasnt even moved. It needs to be cut out. She threw back her robes, revealing the swollen skin. A ripple passed across the surface of her belly, from left to right, then back again. I knew little of childbirth. I had never attended my mother, nor any of my cousins. A few things I remembered hearing. Have you tried pushing from your knees? Of course Ive tried it! She screamed as the spasm came again. Ive had eight children! Just cut the fucking thing out of me! From my bag I drew out a pain draught. Are you stupid? Im not going to be put to sleep like some infant. Give me the willow bark. Willow is for headaches, not surgery. Give it to me! I gave it, and she drained the bottle. Daedalus, she said, take up the knife. I had forgotten he was there. He stood in the doorway, very still. Pasipha?, I said, do not be perverse. You sent for me, now use me. She laughed, a savage sound. You think I trust you with that? You are for after. Anyway, it is fitting that Daedalus should do it, he knows why. Dont you, craftsman? Will you tell my sister now, or shall we let it be a surprise? I will do it, Daedalus said to me. It is my task. He stepped to the table and took up the knife. The blade was honed to a hairs edge. She seized his wrist. Just remember, she said. Remember what I will do if you think to go astray. He nodded mildly, though for the first time I saw something like anger in his eyes. She drew her nail across the lower portion of her belly, leaving a red slice. There, she said. The room was hot and close. I felt my hands slicked with sweat. How Daedalus held that knife steady I do not know. The tip bit into my sisters skin, and blood welled, red and gold mixed. His arms were taut with effort, his jaw set. It took a long time, for my sisters immortal flesh fought back, but Daedalus cut on with utmost concentration, and at last the glistening muscles parted, and the flesh beneath gave way. The path lay bare to my sisters womb. Now you, she said, looking at me. Her voice was hoarse and torn. Get it out. The couch beneath her was sopping. The room was filled with the overripe stink of her ambrosial blood. Her belly had stopped rippling when Daedalus began to cut. It was tensed now. As if it were waiting, I thought. I looked at my sister. What is in there? Her golden hair was matted. What do you think? A baby. I put my hands to that gap in her flesh. The blood pulsed hot against me. Slowly, I pressed through the muscles and the wet. My sister made a strangled croak. I searched in that slickness, and at last there it was: the soft mass of an arm. A relief. I could not even say what I had feared. Just a baby. I have it, I said. My fingers inched upwards for purchase. I remember telling myself that I must be careful to find its head. I did not want it twisted when I began to pull. Pain burst in my fingers, so shocking I could not cry out. I thought some scrambled thing: that Daedalus must have dropped the scalpel inside of her, that a bone had broken in her labor and stabbed me. But the pain clamped harder, driving deep into my hand, grinding. Teeth. It was teeth. I did scream then. I tried to jerk my hand away, but it had me fast in its jaws. In a panic, I yanked. The lips of my sisters wound parted and the thing slid forth. It thrashed like a fish on a hook, and muck flew across our faces. My sister was shrieking. The thing was like an anchor dragging on my arm, and I felt my finger joints tearing. I screamed again, the agony white-hot, and fell on top of the creature, scrabbling for its throat with my hand. When I found it, I bore down, pinning its body beneath me. Its heels beat on the stone, its head twisted, side to side. At last I saw it clear: the nose broad and flat, shining wetly with birth fluid. The shaggy, thick face crowned with two sharp horns. Below, the froggy baby body bucked with unnatural strength. Its eyes were black and fixed on mine. Dear gods, I thought, what is it? The creature made a choking sound and opened its mouth. I snatched my hand away, bloody and mangled. I had lost my last two fingers and part of a third. The things jaw worked, swallowing what it had taken. Its chin wrenched in my grip, trying to bite me again. A shadow beside me. Daedalus, pale and blood-spattered. I am here. The knife, I said. What are you doing? Do not hurt him, he must live! My sister was struggling on her couch, but she could not rise with her muscles cut. The cord, I said. It still ran gristle-thick between the creature and my sisters womb. He sawed at it. My knees were wet where I knelt. My hands were a mass of broken pain and blood. Now a blanket, I said. A sack. He brought a thick wool coverlet, laid it on the floor beside me. With my torn fingers, I dragged the thing into its center. It fought still, moaning angrily, and twice I nearly lost it, for it seemed to have grown stronger even in those moments. But Daedalus gathered up the corners, and when he had them, I jerked my hands away. The creature thrashed in the blanket folds, unable to find purchase. I took the ends from him, lifting it off the floor. I could hear the rasp of Daedalus breath. A cage, he said. We need a cage. Get one, I said. I will hold it. He ran. Inside its sack, the creature twisted like a snake. I saw its limbs lined against the fabric, that thick head, the points of horns. Daedalus returned with a birdcage, the finches still fluttering inside. But it was stout, and large enough. I stuffed the blanket in, and he clanged shut the door. He threw another blanket over it, and the creature was hidden. I looked at my sister. She was covered in blood, her belly a slaughter-yard. The drips fell wetly to the sodden rug beneath. Her eyes were wild. You did not hurt it? I stared at her. Are you mad? It tried to eat my hand! Tell me how such an abomination came to be. Stitch me up. No, I said. You will tell me, or I will let you bleed yourself dry. Bitch, she said. But she was wheezing. The pain was wearing her away. Even my sister had an end in her, a place she could not go. We stared at each other, yellow eyes to yellow. Well, Daedalus? she said at last. It is your moment. Tell my sister whose fault this creature is. He looked at me, face weary and streaked with blood. Mine, he said. It is mine. I am the reason this beast lives. From the cage, a wet chewing sound. The finches had gone silent. The gods sent a bull, pure white, to bless the kingdom of Minos. The queen admired the creature and desired to see it more closely, yet it ran from any who came near. So I built the hollow likeness of a cow, with a place inside for her to sit. I gave it wheels, so we might roll it to the beach while the creature slept. I thought it would only beI did not Oh, please, my sister spat. The world will be ended before you stammer to your finish. I fucked the sacred bull, all right? Now get the thread. I stitched my sister up. Soldiers came, their faces carefully blank, and bore the cage to an inner closet. My sister called after them, No one goes near it without my word. And give it something to eat! Silent handmaids rolled up the soaked rug and carried off the ruined couch as if they did such work every day. They burned frankincense and sweet violets to mask the stench, then bore my sister to the bath. The gods will punish you, I had told her, while I sewed. But she had only laughed with a giddy lushness. Dont you know? she had said. The gods love their monsters. The words made me start. You talked to Hermes? Hermes? What does he have to do with it? I dont need some Olympian to tell me what is plain before my face. Everyone knows it. She smirked. Except for you, as usual. A presence at my side brought me back. Daedalus. We were alone, for the first time since he had come to my island. There were drops of brown spattered across his forehead. His arms were smeared to the elbow. May I bandage your fingers? No, I said. Thank you. They will fix themselves. Lady. He hesitated. I am in your debt for all my days. If you had not come, it would have been me. His shoulders were taut, tensed as if against a blow. The last time he had thanked me, I had stormed at him. But now I understood more: he, too, knew what it was to make monsters. I am glad it was not, I said. I nodded at his hands, crusted and stained like everything else. Yours cannot grow back. He lowered his voice. Can the creature be killed? I thought of my sister shrieking to be careful. I dont know. Pasipha? seems to believe it can. But even so it is the child of the white bull. It may be guarded by a god, or it may bring down a curse upon any who harm it. I need to think. He rubbed at his scalp, and I saw the hope of an easy solution drain from him. I must go make another cage then. That one wont hold it long. He left. The gore was drying stiff upon my cheeks, and my arms were greasy with the creatures stink. I felt clouded and heavy, sick from the pollution of so much blood. If I called the handmaids, they would bring me to a bath, but I knew that would not be enough. Why had my sister made such an abomination? And why summon me? Most naiads would have fled, but one of the nereids might have done it, they were used to monsters. Or Perses. Why had she not called for him? My mind had no answers. It was limp and dulled, useless as my missing fingers. One thought came clear: I must do something. I could not stand by while a horror was loosed upon the world. I had the thought that I should find my sisters workroom. Perhaps there would be something there to help me, some antidote, some great drug of reversal. It was not far, a hall off her bedchamber separated by a curtain. I had never seen another witchs craft room before, and I walked its shelves expecting I do not know what, a hundred grisly things, kraken livers, dragons teeth, the flayed skin of giants. But all I saw were herbs, and rudimentary ones at that: poisons, poppies, a few healing roots. I had no doubt my sister could work plenty with them, for her will had always been strong. But she was lazy, and here was the proof. Those few simples were old and weak as dead leaves. They had been collected haphazardly, some in bud, some already withered, cut with any knife at any time of day. I understood something then. My sister might be twice the goddess I was, but I was twice the witch. Her crumbling trash could not help me. And my own herbs from Aiaia would not be enough, strong as they were. The monster was bound to Crete, and whatever would be done, Crete must guide me. I traced back through the halls and corridors to the palace center. There I had seen stairs that ran not to the harbor but inland, to the wide, bright gardens and pavilions, which in turn opened out to distant fields. All around, busy men and women swept flagstones, picked fruits, hefted their baskets of barley. They kept their eyes diligently lowered as I went. I suppose living with Minos and Pasipha? they had grown used to ignoring bloodier things than me. I passed the outlying houses of peasants and shepherds, the groves and grazing herds. The hills were lush and so golden with sun that the light seemed to rise from them, but I did not stop to savor the view. My eyes were fixed upon the black outline that stood against the sky. Mount Dicte, it is called. No bears or wolves or lions dare to tread there, only the sacred goats, their great horns curling like conch shells. Even in the hottest season, the forests remain dark and cool. At night, the huntress Artemis is said to roam its hills with her shining bow, and in one of its shadowed caves Zeus himself was born and hidden from his devouring father. There are herbs there that grow nowhere else. They are so rare, few have been given names. I could feel them swelling in their hollows, breathing tendrils of magic into the air. A small yellow flower with a green center. A drooping lily that bloomed orange-brown. And best of all, furred dittany, queen of healing. I did not walk as a mortal walks, but as a god, and the miles fell away beneath my feet. It was dusk when I reached the foothills and began to climb. The branches laced over me. The shade rose deep as water, tingling across my skin. The whole mountain seemed to hum beneath me. Even bloodied and aching as I was, I felt a spurt of giddiness. I traced the mosses, the hummocks of ground upwards, and, at the base of a white poplar, I found a blooming patch of dittany. Its leaves were threaded with power, and I pressed them to my broken fingers. The spell took hold with a word; my hand would be whole by morning. I gathered some of the roots and seeds for my bag, and kept on. The stink and weight of blood hung still upon me, and at last I found a pool, cold and clear, fed by icy melt. I welcomed the shock of its waters, their clean, scouring pain. I worked those small rites of purification which all gods know. With pebbles from the bank, I scrubbed the filth away. After, I sat on the bank beneath the silvered leaves and thought of Daedalus question. Can the creature be killed? Among the gods there are a few who have the gift of prophecy, the ability to peer into the murk and glimpse what fates will come. Not everything may be foreseen. Most gods and mortals have lives that are tied to nothing; they tangle and wend now here, now there, according to no set plan. But then there are those who wear their destinies like nooses, whose lives run straight as planks, however they try to twist. It is these that our prophets may see. My father has such foreknowledge, and I had heard it said all my life that the trait was passed to his children also. I had never thought to test it. I had been raised to think I had none of his strengths. But now I touched the water and said, Show me. An image formed, delicate and pale, as if made from curls of mist. A smoking torch bobbed in long corridors. A thread unwound through a stone passage. The creature roared, showing its unnatural teeth. It stood tall as a man, dressed in rotting scraps. A mortal, sword in hand, leapt from the shadows to strike it dead. The mist ebbed, and the pool cleared again. I had my answer, but it was not the one I had hoped for. The creature was mortal, but it could not die as an infant, by my hand or Daedalus. It had a fate many years in the future, and must live it out. Until then, it could only be contained. That would be Daedalus work, yet there might be a way for me to help him. I paced among the shadowed trees, thinking of that creature and what weaknesses it might have. I remembered its black eyes fixed ravening on mine. Its sucking hunger as it fought me for my hand. How much would it take to sate that appetite? If I had not been a god, it would have crawled up my arm, consuming me inch by inch. I felt an idea rise in me. I would need all the secret herbs of Dicte, and with them the strongest binding weeds, ilex root and withy, fennel and hemlock, aconite, hellebore. I would need as well the rest of my moly stores. I slipped through those trees unerring, hunting down each ingredient in its turn. If Artemis walked that night, she kept out of my way. I carried the leaves and roots back to the pool and ground them on its rocks. The paste I gathered in one of my bottles, and added some of the pools water. Its waves still bore the blood it had washed from my hands, mine and my sisters too. As if it knew, the draught swirled red and dark. I did not sleep that night. I stayed on Dicte until the sky went gray and then began walking back to Knossos. By the time I reached the palace, the sun was bright on the fields. I passed a courtyard that had caught my eye the day before, and stopped now to examine it more closely. In it was a great dancing circle, ringed by laurels and oaks for shade from the beating sun. I had thought its floor was made of stone, but now I saw it was wood, a thousand tiles of it, so smoothed and varnished that they seemed like a single piece. They were painted with a spiral, traveling outwards from its center like the furling crest of a wave. Daedalus work, it could be no other. A girl was dancing on it. No music played, yet her feet kept perfect time, each step the beat of a silent drum. She moved like a wave herself, graceful, but with relentless, driving motion. On her head shone the circlet of a princess. I would have known her anywhere. The girl from Daedalus prow. Her eyes widened when she saw me, just like her statues. She bowed her head. Aunt Circe, she said. I am glad to meet you. I am Ariadne. I could see pieces of Pasipha? in her, but only if I searched: her chin, the delicacy of her collarbone. You are skilled, I said. She smiled. Thank you. My parents are looking for you. No doubt. But I must find Daedalus. She nodded, as if I were only one of a thousand who wanted him instead of her parents. I will take you. But we must be careful. The guards are out looking. She slipped her fingers into mine, warm and a little damp from her exercise. Through dozens of narrow side-passages she led me, her feet silent on the stones. We came at last to a bronze door. She beat six times in a rhythm. I cannot play now, Ariadne, a voice called. I am busy. I am with the lady Circe, she said. The door swung open, revealing Daedalus, sooty and stained. Behind him was a workroom, half open to the sky. I saw statues with their cloths still on them, gears and instruments I did not recognize. At the back, a foundry smoked, and metal glowed hot in a mold. A fish spine lay on a table, a strange jagged blade beside it. I have been to Mount Dicte, I said. I have glimpsed the creatures fate. It can die, but not now. A mortal will come who is destined to dispatch it. I do not know how long it may be. The creature was full-grown in my vision. I watched the knowledge settle on him. All the days ahead that he must be on his guard. He drew a breath. So we contain it then. Yes. I have brewed a charm that will help. It craves I paused, feeling Ariadne behind me. It craves that flesh you saw it eat. It is part of its nature. I cannot take away that hunger, but I may set bounds upon it. Anything, he said. I am grateful. Do not be grateful yet, I said. For three seasons of the year, the spell will keep its appetite at bay. But every harvest it will return, and must be fed. His eyes flicked to Ariadne behind me. I understand, he said. The rest of the time it will still be dangerous, but only as a savage beast might be. He nodded, but I saw he was thinking of harvest time, and the feeding that must come. He glanced at the molds behind him, tinged red with heat. I will be finished with the cage tomorrow morning. Good, I said. It cannot come too soon. I will work the spell then. When the door closed, Ariadne stood waiting. You were speaking of the baby that was born, were you not? He is the one that must be kept until hes killed? He is. The servants say he is a monster, and my father shouted at me when I asked about him. But he is still my brother, is he not? I hesitated. I know about my mother and the white bull, she said. No child of Pasipha?s could remain innocent for long. I suppose you may say he is your half-brother, I said. Now come. Take me to the king and queen. Griffins preened, delicate and regal, on the walls. The windows spilled sun. My sister lay on her silver couch glowing with health. Beside her, on an alabaster chair, Minos looked old and puffed, like something left dead in the waves. His eyes seized on me as snatcher-birds take fish. Where have you been? The monster needs tending. That is why you were brought here! I have made a draught, I said. So we may transfer it to its new cage more safely. A draught? I want it killed! Darling, you sound hysterical, Pasipha? said. You havent even heard my sisters idea. Go on, Circe, please. She rested her chin on her hand, theatrically expectant. It will bind the creatures hunger for three seasons of each year. Thats it? Now, Minos, youll hurt Circes feelings. I think its a very fine spell, sister. My sons appetite is a bit unwieldy, isnt it? Hes gone through most of our prisoners already. I want the creature dead, and that is final! It cannot be killed, I told Minos. Not now. It has a destiny far in the future. A destiny! My sister clapped delightedly. Oh, tell us what it is! Does it escape and eat someone we know? Minos paled, though he tried to hide it. Be sure, he said to me. You and the craftsman, be sure it is secure. Yes, my sister crooned. Be sure. I hate to think what would happen if it got out. My husband may be a son of Zeus, but his flesh is thoroughly mortal. The truth isshe lowered her voice to a whisperI think he may be afraid of the creature. A hundred times I had seen some fool caught between my sisters claws. Minos took it worse than most. He stabbed a finger through the air at me. You hear? She threatens me openly. This is your fault, you and your whole lying family. Your father gave her to me as if she were a treasure, but if you knew the things she has done to me Oh, tell her some of them! I think Circe would appreciate the witchcraft. What about the hundred girls who died while you heaved over them? I could feel Ariadne, very still, beside me. I wished she were not there. The hate in Minos eyes was a living thing. Foul harpy! It was your spell that caused their deaths! All you breed is evil! I should have ripped that beast from your cursed womb before it could be born! But you did not dare, did you? You know how your dear father Zeus dotes on such creatures. How else can all his bastard heroes win their reputations? She cocked her head. In fact, shouldnt you be slavering to take up a sword yourself? Oh, but I forgot. You have no taste for killing unless it is serving girls. Sister, truly, you should learn this spell. You need only Minos had risen from his seat. I forbid you to speak further! My sister laughed, her most silver-fountain sound. It was calculated, like everything she did. Minos raged on, but I was watching her. I had dismissed her coupling with the bull as some perverse whim, but she was not ruled by appetites; she ruled with them instead. When was the last time that I had seen true emotion on her face? I recalled now that moment on her childbed when she had cried out, her face twisted with urgency, that the monster must live. Why? Not love, there was none of that in her. So the creature must somehow serve her ends. It was my hours with Hermes that helped me to an answer, all the news that he had brought me of the world. When Pasipha? had married Minos, Crete was the richest and most famous of our kingdoms. Yet since then, every day, more mighty kingdoms were rising up, in Mycenae and Troy, Anatolia and Babylon. Since then too, one of her brothers had learned to raise the dead, the other to tame dragons, and her sister had transformed Scylla. No one spoke of Pasipha? anymore. Now, at a stroke, she made her fading star shine again. All the world would tell the story of the queen of Crete, maker and mother of the great flesh-eating bull. And the gods would do nothing. Think of all the prayers they would get. Its just so funny, Pasipha? was saying. It took you so long to understand! Did you think they were dying from the pleasure of your exertions? From the sheer transported bliss? Believe me I turned to Ariadne, standing beside me silent as air. Come, I said. We are finished here. We walked back to her dancing circle. Over us, the laurels and oaks spread their green leaves. When your spell is cast, she said, my brother will not be so monstrous anymore. That is my hope, I said. A moment passed. She looked up at me, hands clasped to her chest as if she kept a secret there. Will you stay a little? I watched her dance, arms curving like wings, her strong young legs in love with their own motion. This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind. Ariadnes light feet crossed and recrossed the circle. Every step was perfect, like a gift she gave herself, and she smiled, receiving it. I wanted to seize her by the shoulders. Whatever you do, I wanted to say, do not be too happy. It will bring down fire on your head. I said nothing, and let her dance. Chapter Eleven WHEN THE SUN TOUCHED the distant fields, guards arrived to collect Ariadne. The princess is wanted by her parents. They marched her off, and I was shown to my room. It was small and near the servants quarters. This was meant, of course, to be an insult, but I liked the respite of the unpainted walls, the narrow window that showed only a sliver of the relentless sun. It was quiet as well, for all the servants crept past, knowing who lay within. The sister witch. They left food for me while I was gone and took the tray only when I was out again. I slept, and the next morning Daedalus came for me. He smiled when I opened my door, and I found myself smiling in return. One thing I could thank the creature for: the ease between us had returned. I followed him down a staircase to the twisting corridors that ran beneath the palace. We passed grain cellars, storage rooms lined with rows of pithoi, the great ceramic jars that held the palaces largesse of oil and wine and barley. Whatever became of the white bull, do you know? No. It vanished when Pasipha? began to swell. The priests said it was the bulls final blessing. Today I heard someone say that the monster is a gift from the gods to help us prosper. He shook his head. They are not naturally fools, it is only that they are caught between two scorpions. Ariadne is different, I said. He nodded. I have hopes of her. Have you heard what theyve decided to name the thing? The Minotaur. Ten ships go out with the announcement at noon, and ten more will go out tomorrow. Clever, I said. Minos claims it, and instead of being a cuckold he shares in my sisters glory. He becomes the great king who begets monsters and names them after himself. Daedalus made a noise in his throat. Exactly. We had come to the large cellar room that held the creatures new cage. It was wide as a ships deck and half as long, forged of a silver-gray metal. I put my hands to its bars, smooth and thick as saplings. I could smell the iron in it, but what more I could not tell. It is a new substance, Daedalus said. Harder to work, but more durable. Even so, it will not hold the creature forever. He is already freakishly strong, and only just born. But it will give me time to devise something more permanent. The soldiers followed behind, carrying the old cage on poles to keep their distance. They set it clanging down inside the new and were gone before the echoes had faded. I went and knelt beside it. The Minotaur was larger than it had been, its flesh plump, pressing at the metal lattice. Clean of birth fluids now and dry, the line between bull and baby was starker than ever, as if some madman had lopped a steers head and sewed it to a toddler. It stank of old meat, and the cage-bottom rattled with long bones. I felt a wash of nausea. One of Cretes prisoners. The creature was watching me with huge eyes. It rose and snuffled forward, nose working. A moan came from it, sharp and excited. It remembered me. My smell and the taste of my flesh. It opened its squat mouth, like a baby bird begging. More. I took my moment: spoke the words of power and poured the draught through the cage, down its open throat. The creature choked and lunged against the bars, but even as it did its eyes were changing, the fury in them ebbing away. I held its gaze and put out my hand. I heard Daedalus draw in a breath. But the creature did not leap for me. Its rigid limbs had loosened. Another moment I waited, then undid the lock and opened the cage. It shuffled a little, the bones clattering under its feet. It is all right, I murmured, whether to myself or Daedalus or the creature, I could not say. Slowly, I moved my hand towards it. Its nostrils flared. I touched its arm, and it made a huff of surprise, but nothing more. Come, I whispered, and it did, crouching and stumbling a little as it passed through the cages small opening. It looked up at me, expectantly, almost sweetly. My brother, Ariadne had called it. But this creature had not been made for any family. It was my sisters triumph, her ambition made flesh, her whip to use against Minos. In thanks, it would know no comrade, no lover. It would never see the sun, never take a free step. There was nothing it might ever have in the world but hatred and darkness and its teeth. I picked up the old cage and stepped back. It watched me as I moved away, its head tilted with curiosity. I shut the cage door, and its ear flicked at the metallic sound. When harvest came, it would scream with rage. It would tear at the bars, trying to rip them apart. Daedalus let out a low breath. How did you do that? It is half beast, I said. All the animals on Aiaia are tame. Can the spell be undone? Not by another. We locked the c