Notes, Known problems, etc
And so it ends…
There's a short bit of questionable consent towards the end of the chapter, but it happens offstage. I meant to not include it at all, but Iphi had to go and talk about it.. x.x
Tears of Magdalena - Immortal Love
Quiet Riot - The Wild and the Young
Sam Tsui - Don't Want an Ending
Diary of Dreams - Undividable
Dawn of Destiny - Rain
Lunatica - Emocean
Persephone - Facing the Ruins
Tiamat - Wings of Heaven
Epica - Solitary Ground
Krypteria - Liberatio
Yeah, hair metal makes an appearance. That's what happens when my boyfriend changes the radio station and I don't bother changing it back for a while XD
FINALE: Where the Ocean Meets the Sky
"Safi," I heard Iphi whisper in awe. "Your voice..."
It took me a moment to understand her, as I lay trembling against the cold sand and Iphi's warm flesh, the last of the unbearable fulfillment ebbing, leaving me drained and vacant. Iphi's voice was a breathless whisper, and she still quivered against me. A moment ago I had heard her whimper - was she hurt? Had she experienced what I had? She had just said-
Hadn't I just moaned aloud?
I tried it again, giving a tiny squeak.
Iphi gave a whoop of joy and pulled me close - we had slumped apart as we slackened - seizing me in a tremulous hug. "Can you speak?" she whispered in my ear, her voice rushed and breathless with a simpler excitement than before.
I think so. Out of long habit, I did not even try to speak the words out loud. Now I made myself try. "I.. think so." The words creaked out barely recognizable. I coughed and tried again. "I- Yes. Yes! I can speak." My voice shook with emotion.
"You can! You can speak!" Iphi hugged me tighter, and I felt wetness slide into my hair and between our cheeks - the mark of human emotion. Then she kissed me fiercely, and for some moments I thought we were embarking on another flight of those strange, tingling sensations that came of touching one another, but instead she drew back and whispered, "Sing for me, Safi. Please."
"Sing?" I gasped.
"Please?" she repeated.
"All right," I agreed happily, and crawled to a sitting position. Iphi wriggled next to me to place her head in my lap, curls of hair tickling my thighs. I gazed at her smiling face for a moment - smiling at me, Safi! - then raised my head as the song rose in me and flowed out over the gently heaving sea, up to the silently smiling stars.
I have crossed the spears of stones
And climbed the mountain to the sky;
I have danced at the feet of the goddess
And woven my fate on the loom.
I am a daughter of Phorcys,
Once fish-tailed maid of the deep -
But I have a heart that's not covered in scales
A heart that longs for more than the sea.
You walk on earth like on the clouds,
And now I walk beside you in the sun -
The wind lifts our feet among the leaves,
And the stars draw close to see our joy.
You are a daughter of Cwytheros,
Woven into the fabric of the land -
But now our threads are at last united
And our steps are as free as the wind.
My song flowed on wordlessly, soaring to the sky, plumbing the depths of the sea, months of emotion pouring out, the joyous sunny days, the stretches of loneliness, the nights when we were separated by only darkness, the anguish of this last day. My last day no longer, but the start of a new life, united at last with Iphi, a part of her world in the air, the White City, fully human, fully hers. I looked down at her, her lithe body curled up beside me, her face tranquil with joy, and my song drew in to whisper, cradling her, until finally I held her in silence.
"Oh, Safi," she whispered. "Your voice is so beautiful. How I've longed to hear you sing..."
"And I've longed to sing to you." My voice sounded strange to me. I noticed the wetness glistening on Iphi's cheeks, and brushed at it with my fingers. "What is this?"
"Those are tears," Iphi said, smiling. "But I'm not sad. Well, maybe a little for all those months, but that just makes this moment all the better…" She blinked up at me. "You can't cry, can you? I've never seen you cry, even as a human, even when you're sad."
"No. When I'm sad, I sing a sad song. When I'm happy, I sing a happy song."
Iphi nodded, her hair brushing my legs. "And then others feel what you're feeling..."
"They do?" She'd never mentioned that before.
Iphi nodded again. "No wonder I felt such intense longing when I watched you dance...it was the same with your dance."
A dark feeling settled in my stomach. "Then..all of this..it's just a reflection of my longing..."
"No." Iphi's eyes gripped mine. "You never gave me any feeling that I didn't already have. Your song, your dance, just unlocked and enflamed the things I was already feeling."
The darkness subsided, driven back by the intensity of her eyes. "Even that first time? On the ship?"
Her eyes went distant, pensive. "I didn't feel anything then. That's why I didn't jump in the water like the others."
I recalled my confusion when the handsome soldier didn't respond to my ardent song.
"I've wondered about it," she went on, "and I think it must be- how were you feeling then, when you sang to me from the water?"
I pictured myself in the water, gazing up at the handsome Iphidoros. There was one left for me after all. "Happy," I sighed. "Delighted to have a man of my own," I added with a giggle.
Iphi giggled, too, then became pensive again. "I felt your happiness, I think, but no desire."
"I didn't know anything of desire then. I didn't really know anything of desire until..just now..when we.. And I still don't understand."
"I don't really understand it either," Iphi admitted with a soft smile. "I didn't even know that two women could..well, that we could do that, and feel that way.." Her eyes sparkled and watered as she went on. "I just know I love you, and not just in a physical way, I love everything about being with you, watching you swim and talking with you late into the night and hearing you sing..."
My heart shook to its core, and I nearly burst into song, but forced the words down into speech, shaking with restrained melody. "I love you, too, Iphi, and I don't care whether you're a soldier or a noblewoman. No matter what, I think you're strong, and amazing to look at, and you light up my days. You're my Iphi, no matter who you are."
Iphi chuckled. "Amazing to look at?"
She was one of a kind; there was no one else like her, no man or woman, not even a god or goddess. "You're like Artemis on the outside," I whispered, holding back song. "And then the- secret parts are pale like Aphrodite." I felt my stomach tighten as I contemplated that part of her body that was usually covered.
"Well," Iphi whispered silkily, "all of your body would put the goddess of love to shame." She rose up from my lap, turning to press against me, fingers teasing shivers from my ribs, lips absorbing my gasps.
This time my voice rose and quavered as my skin sang to her touch, as my insides churned and my soul flew under her kisses, as my fingers danced over her skin and played her tenderest parts to crescendo, until at last our cries twined together like our bodies, and then she pressed against me, shaking and soaking my chest, while I gasped and bleated.
We clung to each other as we calmed, and then we noticed that the stars were disappearing into the silvery sky, and the sea mirrored its pale sheen.
"Dawn is coming," Iphi whispered. She sat up and looked about the beach; I stayed lounging on the sand and gazed at her.
"Boats are putting out to sea over there." She pointed away from the city, in the direction of Melanda's village. The narrow beach where we lay was cut off by rocks on either side; beyond the rocks, the sea stretched out like an undulating sheet of silk, covering the whole world. The boats were the length of several ships away from us, sometimes disappearing in the troughs between waves, sometimes appearing suddenly against the sky.
"Fishing boats, I suppose," she went on. "I don't think they've seen us. Hopefully they're looking out to sea. But we should hide, before they do see us."
She scooped up her garment and shook it out, and then wrapped it around her body, to my great disappointment. She began crawling up the beach, and I saved my peplos from the grasp of the sea and followed her. A small cave yawned in the cliff that hung over us; she crept in and I huddled against her.
"What are we hiding from?" I asked her.
"Everyone," she replied. "Everyone who wants to take me back to my husband."
"So you did marry," I said, a hollow feeling in my chest.
"Yes," she said bleakly. "But I don't care for him!" she went on fiercely. "I only care for you, Safi. All this time, it's been you that I loved…"
I stroked her arm and nestled my head against her neck, against the pillow of her hair, largely bursting from its coiffure. All that time… I knew that she was frustrated that she hadn't known sooner, and I felt sorry for having put her through that unhappiness - but I looked back on my own experience in her household with nothing more than sweet melancholy, now that the truth had finally brought us together.
"When night comes again," Iphi said, "We'll sneak out, take one of the fishing boats, and make our escape."
"Escape?" I raised my head. "We're not staying in your city?"
She shook her head. "Here, I belong to my husband. We would have to hide, like this, every day, lest someone find us and drag me back to him. I can't live like that. We can't live like that."
"Where will we go?" I leaned against her shoulder again.
"I don't know. Back to the island." She laughed, a little too lightly.
"That's far," I said.
We didn't speak for a bit. I thought, with secret giddiness, of sailing with Iphi on a little fishing boat, such as Agatheres and the other villagers had- "I know someone who can help us."
"You do?" She turned toward me.
"Melanda. A fishwife who lives in a village over there…"
"A fishwife? So she has a boat…and maybe she could give us some food…"
"Maybe," I said, remembering the careful way Melanda accounted for bread, oil and vegetables. "She has plenty of fish, in any case."
"Then when night falls, we'll go there," Iphi decided.
"Well…I'm not sure I can find my way there at night. I was trying to last night, but I couldn't find the path down to the village."
"Oh. Then why'd you even mention it?"
I bowed my head. "I thought she could help," I mumbled.
Iphi shifted beside me, and then started to quiver. I turned to see her resting her head on her arms, her shoulders shuddering, making little whimpering sounds. "We're trapped," she said. "We're finally together, but we're trapped here - we have no way forward, no way to survive…"
"Don't say that," I said, my heart aching to see my strong Iphi so broken. "We are together. We'll survive somehow. As long as we have each other."
"You're right," she admitted in a shaking voice. She unfolded her legs and reached for me, and I fell into her embrace. She held me close while her tremors slowly faded.
"All right," she said finally, her voice crisp as a captain's ordering his men. "Let's think this through. To survive, first of all, we need food and water. I can't hunt worth a turnip's ear, and you can't in human form either, so we're going to have to buy food. Which means one of us must go to the market, and we need something to trade."
She sat up, and I slid to her side, and we considered our meager collection of things. The damp wad of my white peplos; the sky blue peplos that she wore; glimmering ornaments that dangled from her ears and drooped from her hair. I touched one of the ornaments; perhaps they were valuable?
"Yes, I can trade these," Iphi said eagerly, unfastening them from her ears. "And then…one of us has to go to the market," she pronounced, as though it were sentence of doom.
"Let's go together," I said immediately.
She shook her head. "We'd be sure to attract attention. And you'd be noticed instantly. But so would I, in these fine-" She stopped and reached for the damp wad. "Let me use this," she said. "Help me do something simple with my hair. I'll look like a common woman going to the temples, people won't look twice."
She unwrapped her blue peplos and lifted my wet one. Something tumbled to the cave floor with a clank, and she picked it up. "My knife? Where did this come from? Have you had this the whole time, too?"
I shook my head. "Take it with you," I said, desperate to be off with it. I could never use it, but just the sight of it was frightening.
"Could be useful," she agreed. She wrapped the white peplos around her body - it clung to her legs, and was much less voluminous than the one she had taken off. She struggled with the brooches, so I helped her pin them, and then considered her hair.
"What about a himation?" we both said at the same time.
The blue peplos wouldn't do. We examined the white peplos to see if we could cut a piece of it - but there was not enough overlap for a proper himation. If only I had thought of grabbing mine as I ran out of the house. But I had not been able to think at all, then.
"What about cutting from the bottom?" Iphi said. "No, I suppose that would be too short."
"Like…a man's chiton," I said slowly.
Iphi looked up at me, and a broad grin slowly broke across her face. "I've dressed as a man before."
"Rather well, too," I said reflecting her smile.
"Yes." She chuckled, and then laughed wildly. "Yes! Why didn't we think of it before?"
Her laugh was a little frightening.
We cut a swath from the bottom of the peplos, as neatly as we could, and I tied it tightly around Iphi's chest to conceal her breasts. Then I pinned the garment - now a chiton of unusually delicate cloth, but then again Iphi made a rather delicate and pretty man anyway - onto her slender frame again. She drew a quantity of cloth through the belt to hang over the rather feminine girdle, and did her best to tuck the shoulder brooches under cloth as well. Then she pulled the pins and ornaments from her hair and shook it out over her shoulders. "How do I look?" she asked, lowering her voice.
"Like Iphidoros," I breathed.
She smiled, and I hurried to her, pressed my lips to hers and her body against mine, and then buried my face in her hair. "You said we'd never be apart again," I blurted out.
"I know," she said, squeezing me. "But it's safer this way. I'll be back soon, I promise."
I nodded, and then we drew apart slowly. A last smile exchanged, and then she stepped past me, her hand drifting out of my own.
As she ducked out of the mouth of the cave, she turned and said, "Safroneia, I love you more than anything."
"I love you, too," I said, struggling to keep from bursting into a wail. "Please hurry back."
She nodded, and then turned and strode out of the cave.
I settled against the cave wall and closed my eyes, trembling with a silent song.
Even my yearning to be back with Safi, back in her arms enjoying her touch and her kiss, just back with her knowing she was safe and we were going to make it, couldn't keep me from taking in the amazing view of Cwytheros as I approached along the eastern road. As soon as I had climbed to the road, I saw the statue of Pelas standing boldly against the crisp autumn sky; below her, the gray walls of the temple-citadel squatting on the mountaintop, broad green terraces and colonnades of grandiose palaces sweeping across the slopes just below. And as I crested the last rise of the coastal hills before the city, the rest of the city's buildings spilled down the slope to the sea, or perhaps they were climbing up, perched atop and against each other. The golden curve of the beach and the ever-watchful guard towers enfolded the sea, which rolled languidly into their embrace. It was, I realized, possibly the last time I'd see my city.
And then I thought of the adventure I'd be embarking on with Safi - free to be with the one I loved and to live life as I wanted - and whatever regret I might have felt subsided.
I strode as boldly as I could past the guard tower. I had once been a soldier of Cwytheros, I reminded myself. I'd trained with men, rowed a warship with men, slept and ate and acted like them. I could be a man once again.
But the swagger of a soldier wouldn't do here. I was playing someone in such dire straits that he had to sell his mother's jewelry for food. I had to look glum, destitute, hungry. And yet not unmanly.
At least looking hungry wasn't hard. My stomach complained loudly of the long stretch of time since the noon meal of the day before.
And Safi? She might not have eaten since the banquet. I needed to get food and return to her quickly.
I entered the agora, the sprawling market where the mountain met the sea. I saw it with new eyes now that I must partake in its rituals. The vendors, always so lavish and helpful when I had been a richly attired lady, now seemed hard and demanding, and the people who hurried about their business seemed aggressive and harried, rather than merely busy. Watching people haggle, and trying to learn how to do it, was like trying to learn a new song that went by too fast to follow.
I started with the fishermen on the beach, who showed off their catch right in their boats, bragging about their largest snares and trying to undercut one another's prices. If I could just buy a fish, I could hurry right back to Safi, and we could eat it raw, like we had on the island - we'd neither of us mind, at this point. But none of the fishermen were interested in the ornaments; they demanded coins, which they could trade quickly for necessities like oil or flour once their catch was sold.
Perhaps one of them was the husband of the woman Safi knew; perhaps if she had come, she could have acquired a fish easily. But no; she would have drawn too much attention. We had to do it this way.
I tramped back up the steps to the causeway overlooking the beach. I did not have to dissemble much to project the image of weariness and despair that I hoped to create - I had only to let go of my restraint, let my fears of not being able to get food for us show openly in my face.
I headed up into the throng of the market itself, searching for something we could eat immediately. I passed by stalls selling oil and wine, pens of livestock and birds, carts laden with boxes of spices and bunches of herbs - nothing helpful.
And then finally, I found a cart where a woman fried cakes in oil, a little girl standing by her dipping them meticulously in honey.
"Auntie," I said, "How many cakes will you give me for these?" And I held up the ornaments and peered up at her flaccid face, my shyness only partly a sham.
The woman - her large bulk contained in an oil-stained peplos that was surely the side of a tent, her hair tied up in a crude scarf in lieu of a himation - narrowed her eyes. "Where'd you get those, boy?"
"They're my mother's," I whispered. "She's sick, and we've nothing else left."
"Nothing else left, but you've the likes of those?" She plucked a few more cakes off the hot stone by the fire behind her cart, clearing it, and then with surprising swiftness, she reached across the cart and grasped my wrist in her meaty fist. "I don't think I believe you, boy," she said loudly. "I think you've stolen them."
"No, truly, I ain't," I said, imitating Keperia's way of speaking, and trying to think quickly, to decide whether to reveal my identity, or use my knife. Several people nearby had turned to look, and the woman's glare told me there'd be no talking my way out of this one.
"If that's so, then what's happened to the granary that goes with the likes of these?" She shook her head. "No, these ain't yours. A thief!"
"A thief! A thief!" The cry was taken up around me.
I fumbled for my knife, but a firm hand on my arm stopped me. "Auntie," a familiar voice said, "I know this- this boy, and he's no thief."
Relief flooded me as the woman relaxed her grip, looking up at my husband, her face still pinched in suspicion. "Are you sure, soldier?"
"Absolutely," Euphedor declared, his grip now the one that tightened. My relief melted.
"Well." The woman withdrew her bulk behind her cart, much more slowly than she'd lashed out. "I do beg your pardon. I didn't mean no offense."
"None taken," Euphedor assured her quickly, then glanced down at me with a stern look in his eyes. "Come on, Iphigen..aios. I'll take you home."
I had no choice but to go with him, for fear of causing an even bigger scene. He led me by the arm, uphill and out of the agora, my heart sinking with every step up the mountain. Once we were of the busy road and on the broad avenue where his family's house stood, he whispered, with less harshness than I expected,
"Why are you dressed like that, and why were you trying to sell your jewelry? And where in Deos's name have you been all night?"
I chose an easy question to answer first, one that I could almost reply truthfully to. "I didn't want to attract too much attention, so I dressed as a man."
"You certainly didn't do well at avoiding attention," he replied, with only a hint of reproach. Why was he not angrier? "What about yesterday?"
"I heard a rumor that my brother's ship had returned." I hoped that my father's family had been largely forgotten, that it might be believable I had a brother somewhere. "I couldn't wait, I had to go see…"
"Strange that I, who have many friends among the soldiers, heard no such rumor."
"The rumor was unfounded," I said apologetically.
"I see. I shall have to find out who in my father's household is spreading such irresponsible talk, then."
I hoped by the time he proved there was no rumor, I would be long gone. As soon as he let go of me, I had to make my way back to Safi, and we had to get away from the city. We would find food and water along the way; we just had to get away.
"Why didn't you come back right away? And what about the jewelry?"
"I got lost, and then I got hungry."
He stopped, just outside the gate to his father's residence, and looked down at me, sternness, puzzlement, and something else - amusement, perhaps - swirling in his eyes. "Either you're not as capable as I thought you were, or there's something you're not telling me. What about the girl from the sea?"
"What girl from the sea?" I said, with my best impression of innocence.
"The one who stayed at your uncle's house, and was, I hear to tell, your constant companion."
"Oh, her. I haven't seen her since I came to your family's house, of course."
"It wasn't because of her that you left the house?"
I shook my head, putting on a bewildered look. "Why would I do such a thing?"
"Your servant says the nymph bewitched you." There was a dark note in his voice - but from the momentary distance in his gaze, the threat was not aimed at me. My insides went cold. Don't, I wanted to say. It's not her you want. It's me, isn't it? Now that you have me, you'll leave her alone?
I'm afraid my thoughts showed in my eyes, for the sternness in Euphedor's face deepened. "But we shall keep you safe here," he said. "We will guard you from her, and not let her take you away again."
I bowed my head, hoping he saw demure acceptance, even as I willed to fight harder than ever. No matter how they guarded me, I had to make my escape.
He lifted my chin, and his grip on my arm softened, although not enough for me to tear away.
"I must say," he said, stepping closer. "That you do make a very handsome boy. Perhaps-"
But just then someone shouted for him in the courtyard, and he turned and pulled me with him through the gate. He tasked the first female slave he saw with taking me to the gynaikon, and stood watching by the gate as I was led up the stairs. I had no hope of making it past him, and was sure to face even harsher restrictions if I tried. My best hope, I realized, lay in playing along as the demure bride until the perfect opportunity presented itself.
The girl who was showing me the way drew back the door curtain to the gynaikon, but I hesitated on the threshold. I was still dressed as man, and although as a man I appeared younger than my nineteen years, I still looked far too old to be allowed in the women's quarters, at least as the stranger I was. For I was still "Iphigenaios," I was sure of it.
Lady Myntha and her daughters turned at their looms. Lady Myntha's face froze in open shock for several seconds, and then she said in a barely audible voice, "My…cousin." Then she recovered some of her composure, although her face began to color, and she said hurriedly, "I will come out receive you. So as not to interrupt the girls at their work."
She came across the floor with quick, light steps and took me tightly by the arm, then sent away the girl who'd led me up the stairs. As soon as she was gone, Lady Myntha hauled me - not roughly, but very quickly - along the walkway to the room that would have been mine.
Once inside the room, her nervous smile disappeared. She drew the door curtain closed and then stood in front of me, arms crossed over her small bosom. The expression on her face was mild compared to my aunt's frown, but compared to her former amiability, the change was frightening.
She didn't say anything at first, just gazed at me with narrowed eyes, as though exasperated by a puzzle she couldn't figure out. At last she said:
"So it is true after all what they say about you – that you're wild."
I blushed, feeling surprise open my face. People said that about me?
"You didn't know? Well, now you do."
Of course, my aunt had chided me any number of times for being too wild, not modest enough, not graceful enough, not skilled in any domestic art. But to know that even people outside our social circle shared these views...
"And it stops now. Do you not understand how ungrateful you are being? You could have been kept as a slave in your uncle's house, or even sold, but instead he chose to raise you like his own daughter. He risked his family's name and honor for you, and this is how you repay him? How you repay this family, after my husband offered to take you as our son's wife, out of friendship to your uncle, when no other family would?"
I gaped. I felt as though I had just taken a heavy blow from a club, the wind knocked out of me, swaying on my feet. My uncle, even my aunt, had never mentioned these things. I had never doubted my place in their family, my future with Euphedor.
"This must not happen again, Iphigeneia. If someone has to haul you back again, it will be as a slave."
I shook my head, fighting back tears, but I thought, servitude to my husband or servitude to the house – what difference does it make? I had to escape.
She sighed. "You must learn to be tame," she said, her voice softer now. "You must learn to take joy in the tasks we have – spinning, weaving, embroidery. It is easy, even pleasant, compared to the labor of others around us. We do not have to stoop over vegetables gardens, bend under heavy burdens or be scorched by the cookfire. Learn to enjoy this life, Iphigeneia, and it will be easier."
I looked down. Perhaps six months ago her words, and the joy that she and her daughters evidently took in these tasks, the flights of fancy in which they indulged, escaping this prison of a house into stories, would have encouraged me, helped me get through long years of monotonous work and avoiding the sunlight. But now that I had known true love, known the freedom of the island, even this seemed like a pale mockery of life. And then there was Safi, waiting for me – Safi, who I had left all alone again. Would she forgive me again, would she wait? I thought she would, I hoped she would, but if she didn't...life would be unbearable without her.
I remembered the knife at my belt, and determined that I would rather use it, than suffer a dreary existence in this house without my love.
"And if you are worried about nights with your husband," Lady Myntha continued, "know that that gets easier too, and I do not think my son will be rough with you."
At that, icy dread filled me. I had been so fixated on getting back to Safi, that I had not even thought of my uncompleted marriage. Where before these past few days I had only felt vague apprehension at the thought of my wedding night, now, having experienced the depths of passion, the thought of being in Euphedor's embrace, rather than Safi's, filled me with horror. This, too, was like a cruel mockery of my real love.
"Do you understand, Iphigeneia?"
I nodded slowly. I understood perfectly. This life was not for me - any hope I might have had of reconciling my life with Euphedor and my love for Safi was utterly extinguished. I understood by her threats, too, that this my last chance - I had to make it away with Safi, or I might as well destroy myself completely, for my life was over without her.
"Then let us prepare you for your wedding. We will have the banquet tonight that we should have had last night."
She stripped the peplos-turned-chiton and the chest wrapping off me, and then called for women to wash and dress me. As they drew wet cloths across my skin, I couldn't help thinking of Safi's touch, and my skin tightened and tingled.
"Excited for your wedding, my lady?" one of the women asked.
I could hardly say yes or no, so I looked down and said nothing.
"Frightened, more like," the other woman said.
"Don't worry," the first women said. "It won't be that bad. The master's son is a kind man, and handsome besides. You may even enjoy it. I'm pretty sure I would." She shared a giggle with the other woman.
My desire had quite cooled by then.
As they dressed me, though, my thoughts went back to Safi, alone and hungry in the cave. I had to get back to her, and we had to make our escape. There'd be no second chances after this.
The wedding banquet, I decided, would be my chance. I would be the center of attention, of course, but once everyone was inebriated, I would complain of a headache and leave for my room. Then I'd quickly gather some supplies - food, water, fire stones, perhaps another bigger knife, some needles… The problem was, I didn't know where anything was. I needed an excuse to walk about the house and see where things were situated. I couldn't be caught snooping about, though; it had to be aboveboard. I couldn't afford to arouse any suspicion that might cause the family to throw up hindrances to my escape.
Once I was dressed, the women withdrew. I went out after them onto the walkway - sitting in my room would achieve nothing - and made my way to the gynaikon. I was not yet attired for the wedding; my peplos was an everyday one, with only a few extra folds for embellishment, though the cloth was of fine make and dyed a vibrant orange. Still, compared to the freedom of the chiton, it seemed enveloping and restricting, and I walked with small steps.
Lady Myntha was not in the gynaikon. One of the older daughters - I had not yet learned which one was which - told me she was "in the kitchen or somewhere," when I asked, and then went right back to her weaving. At that, Eione danced away from her loom and offered to show me there, and I gladly accepted her offer. If only I knew her well enough to know if she might be my ally - but some unwitting help would do just as well.
Lady Myntha was indeed in the kitchen, at once accepting inventory reports from slaves that hurried between there and the storeroom, and rattling off quantities and names of dishes she wanted prepared. Already in the courtyard, several more and larger fires were being built, tables were being knocked together and couches dragged out from all corners of the residence, and this, too, she supervised with glances and quick dispatching of messengers to carry her orders to those at work. It was the skill of a woman who had managed a large, busy household for two decades - a skill I would never perfect. I hardly regretted that.
"Lady Myntha - I mean, mother," I said when she focused her gaze on me. "I would like to get to know my new home better."
"I don't have time to show you around today." Something in the courtyard caught her eye and she waved over a young man. "Tell them to leave a way to the privy between the tables."
The man grinned, nodded and ran out.
"Mother, I can show her around," Eione said, nearly jumping with excitement.
Lady Myntha shook her head. "Then you'd both be underfoot. No, Eione, back to your weaving. Iphigeneia, you can stay and help me. You'll learn more that way."
"I want to learn, too!" Eione said.
"Later, child. Go on up, and take some honeycakes to your sisters."
"Yes, mother," the girl cried delightedly. She grabbed handfuls of honeycakes off a tray and scampered out of the room, dodging two men coming in with large urns on their shoulders.
I followed Lady Myntha as she counted dishes and tasted the cooking, directed the set-up in the courtyard, and checked on the guest rooms being furnished for the most noble of the guests. In spite of our hurry, I found time to note the location of bread, olives and dried fish in the kitchen, as well as some large knives and fire stones. For water, I'd have to steal my husband's waterskin - there was no way I was carrying an urn. During a stop in the gynaikon, I threaded a few needles into the edge of my himation, and slipped a small skein of yarn inside the opening of my peplos. Everything else I figured I'd carry in a wicker basket from the kitchen.
I'd leave by the back door of the kitchen, and climb over the garden wall - I was sure there'd be a tree near enough to get over it. I would need a length of rope to hoist up the basket, which stymied me until I noticed a man leading a horse across the courtyard. The next time we were by the stable, I asked to go relieve myself, but instead of doing so I ducked into the dark, dusty building and grabbed one of the ropes used for leading horses. Not knowing where else to put it, I tied it around my waist and pulled the overhanging part of my peplos down to cover it.
Finally, as the western sky began to redden, the entire household gathered in the courtyard to watch as sheep and oxen were offered to Deos and Pelas in my and Euphedor's honor, their blood streaming over the dusty ground. As the carcasses were hacked apart to be roasted, the choicest parts to be burnt for the gods, I was sent up to prepare myself for the banquet. I had just enough time to secret the supplies I'd gathered before someone came into my room. I turned to see Keperia, and relief and joy washed my heart, along with frustration. How useful she might have been earlier!
"Keperia!" I cried, almost throwing myself at her. "Where have you been?"
"Out looking for my lady, like everyone else," she said. "I am glad to see my lady safely back, and ready to wed, I take it?"
I began to shake my head, and almost told her my plan, almost asked her to help - but then I remembered how she had blamed Safi. She'd done it to protect me, surely, but how far would she go to protect me - from myself? I didn't know anymore if I could count on her.
I would do this alone.
I nodded. "Help me dress."
I was able to hold off my worries until the sun chariot's wheel neared the ocean, setting the sky ablaze with color, painting the waves with a fiery gleam and bringing out the orange tones of the rocks above the beach. I knew the walk from Melanda's village to the market and back was a long one - our trips there took almost as long as it took Helios to cross the seemingly boundless sky. But we had lingered, purchasing a variety ofthings and often visiting the Acreia as well - and still we had always been back well before the orange glow that preceded night.
And we had not even made it all the way to Melanda's village.
Iphi should certainly have been back by now.
In the morning, I had at first watched the narrow section of waves and beach that I could see from the cave, waiting to see her striding toward me as the handsome soldier Iphidoros. Then I had remembered how long the walk was from Melanda's village to the market - enough time for the sun to climb high in the sky. Iphi would be gone for some time.
So I fixed my hair, combing it with the wooden comb, now such happy proof of our love, and thought about what it would be like to live with Iphi as a human. We would finally be able to be together, day and night; she would teach me what I still didn't know of human ways; and there would be many, many more passionate embraces such as we had had the night before.
Eventually, hunger became irritating. By then, the sun's light glared almost directly down on the waves that I could see. I wished that I could still hunt as before - I hadn't eaten in two days now.
Perhaps I could. I couldn't see any boats from where I sat, so I crept out of the cave and stood slowly on the beach. As I did so, I feared for a moment that the constant pain in my legs had returned, but quickly realized I was merely stiff from sitting so long. All I could see now were a few tiny, distant shapes. None near enough to spot me, and I would soon be under the surface anyway.
I waded into the breaking waves, intrigued by the feeling of water washing over my human legs, and then surging back out filled with grit. Soon I was approaching the point where the waves threw themselves against the land. The water came almost to my waist each time a wave broke, then receded below my knees before the next wave came crashing in. Closer..closer..then finally a wave reared up right before me, and I dove in.
I was plunged into green darkness. My eyes stung so that I had to close them. My legs were stiff and awkward, unable, in spite of the goddess's gift of grace, of making the undulating motion I had used to swim before. And worst of all, the water that flowed down my throat seared my insides and made me feel as though I were choking. I remembered how Iphi had responded to the water when I saved her the first time, her body spasming to expel it like some noxious substance. My own body spasmed now, but could not force out the water as more continually flowed in. I had to get to the surface. But I didn't even know where the surface was. I forced my eyes open against the bite of the seawater, searched for the gleam of sunlight, and finally found the burst of brightness, not far above me. I wriggled my awkward human body as hard as I could, but could not make myself move. Desperately I reached with my arms, but of course there was nothing to grasp - but my flailing motions did seem to move me slightly, and so I fought on, until my head burst through the surface into bright light, and my body was racked with spasms that sent water spilling out of my mouth.
My eyes and my insides burned, as though I had ingested something noxious. How could the sea, which had always been my home, now be so painful to me? How was it I could not swim, could not even breathe or see in the water?
It was because I was human now. Completely human. I could never go back home - I belonged on land now.
And neither could I hunt, if I could not even swim.
I lolled in the water, unexpectedly sad. This was what I had wanted, wasn't it? To belong to Iphi's world, the world of the air, so that I could accompany her wherever she might go. But I hadn't thought of what I'd have to give up - the world of the sea, my protector, my home, the realm of my mother and father, where I had played and hunted for all of my life.
But it would be worth it. I would soon forget the sea during the happiness that Iphi and I would share, the joyful days and impassioned nights…
Thinking of Iphi reminded me that soon, she would be returning, and so I had better get back to the cave to meet her there. How unhappy she would be if she returned and I wasn't there!
I twisted my head about, searching for the shore and our cave. By waving my arms and legs about, I was slowly able to turn myself toward it. By then I had discovered what sort of motions were more effective in moving myself along. The waves helped too, gradually carrying me toward shore - until suddenly the wave that was carrying me dashed me downward, rolling me over and over, scraping my skin against the sand, until it released me in a swill of sandy water, slipping quickly past me back out to sea. I was left to crawl toward shore, my skin raw, my hair drooping and dripping, shame and frustration burning worse than the seawater in my eyes.
Like tears, I thought, remembering the seawater taste of Iphi's sorrow.
Iphi was not on the beach, nor in the cave. I lay back against the wall. She would be back soon. The sun had passed its zenith and was on its way back down - she must be on her way back already, perhaps almost here by now.
My hair was a mess again. I combed it out again and fixed the braids that were loose, waiting for Iphi to appear at any moment. But she did not appear, and the light changed from soft clarity to gold. Worries flickered at the edges of my mind - where was Iphi? Why wasn't she back yet?
What if someone from her husband's family had found her and taken her back? But she would have fought them off, wouldn't she? She wouldn't give in so easily. What if she had gotten lost, then, if she couldn't find her way back down to this beach. Or what if she had fallen or injured herself while climbing, and lay suffering somewhere?
No, I couldn't think like this. She would be back at any moment, and then we would never be apart again.
But the sun's light deepened to red, until the burning chariot wheel set the sea afire. It was taking far too long. She should have been back by now.
I crept out of the cave again, heedless of the fact that boats were bobbing shoreward on the waves, close enough that I could make out the figures of men moving about on them. I stood and looked up at the orange-painted wall of rock, hoping I would see her climbing down, as bold as that day she climbed to pick the dittany for me on the island. But the cliff was bare.
Something must have happened. Something was preventing her from coming back. I felt desperate to help her - but how? I didn't even know where she was - she had gone to the market, yes, but the market was large and crowded, and supposing she had been captured by her husband's family, or fallen somewhere, or lost her way?
Without my volition, a song slipped out of my throat, calling to her. Where are you, my Iphi? How my heart yearns for you, how I burn without you - driven out of the sea, eyes stinging with sorrow, alone on this golden beach, as the sun sets the sea alight…
I heard a chuckle behind me.
I knew it wasn't Iphi before I even turned; I knew it was no mortal.
The goddess rode the incoming waves like a froth of foam, her filmy white garment lifted by the breeze, her pale hair glimmering like the inside of a shell, her violet eyes like the first darkening of the sky.
"Child of the sea," she said in her light voice, as ethereal as the foam, as she scudded onto the shore, "Why do you grieve still? Have I not given you all you desire? Have I not even granted your sisters the boon of letting you escape your fate?"
I nodded slowly, afraid to disagree, afraid to ask for what I wished for. Every time she had granted a wish of mine, the result had been more pain.
"But you have not taken what I offered," she continued, cold as the waves behind her. "Oh yes, I saw what happened here this night past. Matters of the heart are dear to me after all." Her mouth twisted into a smile. "You were unwise to refuse my gift. What the mortal girl gave you is not nearly as lasting."
"I don't care if she's mortal," I said, pushing away thoughts of Iphi's eventual death. "I'll be happy with her as long as she lives."
"Oh, it is not her life that is about to end."
I stared at her - then began to back away, trembling. Did she mean to kill me, after all this? Whatever for?
She laughed, a chill, tinkling sound. "I am not going to touch you, child of the sea. It is she who will be your undoing."
I had reached the rock wall, and pressed against its rough surface, I continued to stare at her. Iphi? How?
"Oh, you naive, trusting child. You think she went to abase herself by begging in the market? You really thought her pride could suffer that? You think she would run away with a creature like you, run away and leave the luxurious life she has here? Don't you wonder why she hasn't returned?"
I still said nothing. Iphi was proud. She had left me for her home before. And she had said she did not want to live in hiding; she had despaired of us being able to get away. But the way she had spoken of her husband, the emotion in her voice when she had said we would never be apart again…
But then she had left me again.
"Would you like to see what she is doing now?"
I yearned to know, to find her, help her, have her back - but I didn't trust the goddess, not anymore. "Take me to her," I said as firmly as I could.
Her smile deepened. "All right."
I scanned the crowd gathered in the courtyard, packed around the tables, men lounging on the couches with dancing girls sitting by them, the spaces in between packed with squatting and standing common folk and rushing slaves laden with trays and urns. Was it time yet? No, perhaps not yet. Most of the guests were still sitting or standing upright, unless they were leaning in toward an intense conversation, and the talk was just animated, not raucous or filled with bursts of bawdy song. Few were stumbling and no one was asleep. I would have to wait a little longer.
Beside me, Euphedor talked seriously with his father and uncles, who sat by him, or called jovially to his soldier pals, who sat just beyond the male relatives - all around large mouthfuls of roasted meat and gulps of gently watered wine. I might as well not have been there - except for the hand that stayed firmly clamped over mine on the arm of my chair, and the very occasional glances he gave me. Pleased, victorious glances, with a hint of probing curiosity.
I made myself eat while I waited. I had been ravenous earlier in the day, but by the time the banquet began, I was not hungry. I did not usually suffer badly from nerves, but I couldn't shake a feeling of dread about this night, even if I would be escaping before its culmination. Perhaps it was just that surrounded by the celebration of my union with Euphedor, the courtyard packed with people and bright with burning torches, it was hard to believe that I could get away, that I wouldn't have to face the ordeal of sharing Euphedor's bed, or the slow death of a life without Safi.
As I sat there picking at bread and nibbling on meat, I fancied I heard Safi's voice, floating through the back corners of my mind. How wonderful it had been to hear her voice again! And if I missed her beautiful, shimmering tail, at least as a human she didn't have to leave my side for the sea.
Her song became louder, driving insistently to the forefront of my mind. How vividly I recalled it! No - others were raising their heads and looking about - they heard it, too. Her song was real. She was somewhere nearby.
Her song continued to get louder. My heart thumped as it wended around me, the haunting melody, sometimes high and unearthly as though it were the song of the stars, sometimes low and tremorous like the heartbeat of the sea, caressing my skin, caressing my soul. I felt as though my skin were flayed open and my heart bared to the entire gathering - but no one noticed, for all the others also sat with mouths breathlessly agape, eyes straining for a sight of the tantalizing nymph.
Then she appeared under the household gate, directly across from where Euphedor and I sat. She had nothing on; her bare curves were luminous like the moon, her hair a fall of starlight, her eyes large pools of shadow. I tried to speak, tried to rise, but I was too full of feeling - I could not move. No one else moved either.
Then her song faded out, and everything happened at once.
"Safi," I gasped, and started to rise, my whole body tingling and trembling with the sudden release of the enormous emotion.
"Seize that nymph!" Euphedor shouted, also rising, and gripping my wrist tightly. "She bewitched my wife! She's trying to bewitch all of us!"
"No!" I cried, as several of the men near the gate sprang toward Safi - soldiers and male slaves, most of them; the lords at that end of the table were still shaking off their daze. "Don't- Safi! Sing to make them-"
But my idea came too late; six or so men had already laid hands on Safi's arms, and Euphedor shouted over me, "Cover her mouth!" The men by her shoulders clapped their hands over her mouth, almost knocking her off her feet.
"No!" I cried, struggling against Euphedor's grip on my wrist. "Let her go! I'll stay-"
Euphedor passed his arm over me and clasped me against him, locking my arms at my sides; his other hand he clamped over my mouth. "You've been bewitched," he asserted. "You've been bewitched by her."
Suddenly I understood. It was a show - my dash through the city, a flagrant violation of modesty, had to be explained away somehow, and if he could make them all think I was bewitched, then we would not lose face - at least not so much that we couldn't marry. He wanted me that badly, that he would face down a city, and would face down the daughter of a god. I stopped struggling, begging silently that I was right. This is where you let her go, and we go on with the banquet.
Oh, why had she come! This would have been far easier had she not. But we could still make it work. This is where you let her go. And then later, while you sleep…
"What should be done with her?" Euphedor said, and from the gazes of the others, I could see that he spoke to a white-haired man with the short cropped hair and lean build of a soldier, but the stoic face of a priest.
The old man turned to gaze at Safi, and then turned back to Euphedor.
"Take her back to the sea. You must not harm her. She may be under the protection of a god."
Euphedor nodded. He named four of the men holding Safi; the other two broke off. "Euandros, would you go with them - in case they have need of your guidance?"
"Certainly," the white haired man agreed, and pushed himself up from the table. The men began to drag Safi away, her legs stumbling listlessly. Her eyes were still dark, and seemed unseeing. I called to her with my eyes - wait for me! I'm coming!
Then she was gone around the glow of the arched gateway, into the darkness of night.
Euphedor's grip softened and his hand withdrew from my mouth to my shoulder, but his other arm held me no less close. "I can wait no longer," he announced to the gathering, who turned to him with shiny-eyed attention. "I am taking my bride to my room. I will return to celebrate…later. Enjoy yourselves."
Cheers and laughter showered us as Euphedor scooped me up and made his way through the crowd toward the stairs.
I hardly felt the ground beneath my feet or saw the buildings that we passed. The night was blue around me, like water where hardly any light can reach.
All I could see, in any case, was Iphi, sitting beside her husband, standing with him, staring at me in shock and fright. She had not expected or wanted me to come. What had she said? "I'll stay." She wanted to stay with her husband.
The men holding me lurched, and the ground underfoot became soft and shifting. Long dark shapes loomed about us, and I heard the sighing of the sea, the whisper of the wind. A light and another man approached. "Who goes there?" They discussed, and then the man with the light drew back, and we went on in the darkness, between the looming hulls, toward the softly rolling and shimmering sea.
Where the moonlit foam washed onto the sand, the men released me, and my legs crumpled under me. Cool water washed over my thighs; my hands sank into soft waterlogged sand. The sea, my home, welcoming me back after all.
One of the men was speaking, the old one who had not held onto me. "Go back where you came from, nymph. This is not your world; you don't belong here. Go back to the realm of Lord Enesichthon; do not force us to ask Deos, King of the Sky, or our Protectress, Pelas, to drive you from the city."
I shook my head numbly. They did not need to. I had no more need of their city.
I couldn't return to the sea either, though. I couldn't swim; I couldn't breathe underwater.
It did not matter. I felt no need to go anywhere. Iphi had saved me, but she might as well have ended my life.
The sea washed over me again and again, coaxing away my sorrow, leaving me empty. And then, suddenly, pain stabbed up through the center of my body, sharper than ever before. I folded on myself in the water, letting out a little whimper. I waited for the pain to ease, for my body to get used to it, but I could not; it was too strong, as though my lower body were being cleaved apart even more than before.
As the pain took over, my awareness of the outside of my body began to slip away, as though my edges were beginning to fade into the sea. Soon, I could not sense my hands or my feet at all, and then my arms began to fade away as well, and the knees that they were wrapped around.
The realization came over me in a profound yet gentle wave of sorrow, covering over the physical pain. It was true - she loved another, for I was crumbling into foam, to be tossed by the sea and shattered on the shore. I was to be no more – I would never see her again. Oh, Iphi. Would that my last glimpse of her hadn't been in her husband's arms. I lay back in the water and let the grief wash over me like the waves. The sky spread above me, the stars seeming to shiver, as though seen through rippling water.
And then, just as feeling began to fade and my vision began to dim, a figure appeared above me. Dark hair curled over her shoulders, lithe arms extended toward me. Her slender body was wrapped in a short, boyish garment, but her breasts were obvious. So like Iphi, but she was not Iphi - her face was even more beautiful, the perfection of the immortals. Stinging salt water washed over my face.
"Child of the sea," the goddess said, reaching where my shoulders had been, taking hold of what was left of me. Her voice was like a warm current, like the ripple of a gentle brook. "You have suffered enough. I have convinced my father to call you up to the sky."
"There is…no need." I could only whisper.
The goddess paused. "You do not want to see your beloved again?"
A hint of longing tugged at whatever was left of me. See her, one last time?
"See her, always," the goddess corrected gently. "Look down on her from the sky."
A tiny flicker of longing sounded from the remains of my heart – but it was drowned in a throb of anguish. See her with her husband, doting on him, loving him…
"And shine up there for your mother to see…"
At that, a much stronger pang went through me. Oh, my poor mother. How I had wronged her – how foolishly I had fulfilled the goddess's curse.
Would it comfort her to see me in the sky? Surely it would be better, anyway, than knowing I was nothing more than scraps of foam.
But I remembered, too, the goddess's cruel wishes, my mother's sorrow. Why would you, a proud goddess of the sky, help me, a child of the sea, a child of Ceto?
But this goddess was different, her face as warm and sunny as the apple blossoms on the island so long ago. I felt at ease with her, comforted by the gentle sunlight in her eyes, the soft touch of her hands.
And now she leaned close and breathed her warmth over the flimsy surface of my body, dispelling grief and pain. "I am not just the mistress of animals and patron of maidens - I am also the protector of the wild and the lost."
At that, I finally nodded.
I felt a gentle tug as I was drawn out of my fragmented body and my being was transformed into light.
When he had finished with me, I waited for him to either fall asleep or go back to the banquet. Instead, he remained lying beside me, gazing down at me with a look that was soft, almost tender, but also with something questioning or seeking in it.
A year earlier, things would have been quite different. Enchanted by his handsomeness,I would likely have responded breathlessly to his kisses and caresses, rather than merely enduring them, restraining myself from turning my head away, fighting tears at the swirl of bodily excitement and emotional disgust that his touch aroused, holding back a cry and wishing myself somewhere else when he drove himself into me.
He was disappointed, and I was trembling and still trying not to cry. I closed my eyes and focused on calming my breathing, pretending to sleep.
My exhausted body betrayed me, for I did slip into sleep. And in the gray world of dreams, I saw her. She lay in water just deep enough to wash over her as the waves came in, momentarily blurring her features before the water streamed away again. Her eyes were large and bright, her face full of soft, mute sadness, and her body sparkled as though covered in innumerable tiny scales, or perhaps the light of a million tiny stars. As I watched, her body cracked and fell apart in two halves like a rock split by a fall, and then she began to dissolve into the water, her hair tugged away by swirling eddies, the waves breaking over her seeming to wash away the edges of her form. She faded to translucence, and through her disappearing body pierced the brilliance of a new constellation.
Her eyes, staring at me with the haunting call of the deep, were all that was left when I woke.
I opened my eyes to a dim, unfamiliar room, and a piercing heartache that would not fade - and I knew that what I had seen was true.
I gave a choked cry, curling into a ball, trying to deny the agony, but it screamed inside me, and I knew that what I cherished most had been torn from me.
Sobs threatened to break out of my throat and break the gray quiet that surrounded me. I buried my face in a cushion and let the pain wrack my body, hoping for some sort of release, but there was none.
I sat up and looked distractedly me. I was alone in the room; it looked bare and dusty in the gray pre-dawn light.
I felt the knife at my waist. There was release. But not here - not in this place where all my hopes had been destroyed. I untangled myself from the blanket, tugged my peplos back into the place, and headed for the door, my step uneven, my breath ragged.
The courtyard was silent, strewn with the remains of the banquet and sleeping figures. Two large piles of embers smoldered softly, harbingers of the coming dawn.
I dashed down the steps, picked my way among the sleeping figures, and darted out the open gate. Tears blurred my vision as I ran along the broad avenue. This time, instead of turning down toward the shore, I went up the road toward the Acreia. I stumbled up the stone steps, clawing at the rough walls to keep my balance. Then I was on the broad plaza between the gleaming temples. I hardly the noticed the few white-clad figures that moved among the towering buildings. I ran on across the plaza, through the gap between the temple of Pelas and the temple of Enesichthon, around the base of her looming statue, to the place where the rock dropped away, down to the crashing sea far below.
I paused just long enough to draw the knife, and then as red dawn broke over the mountaintop, I stepped off the cliff onto the blade.
The unexpected snap of the string surprised the three fates, and it rang through the will of the world like the screech of a falcon. The Huntress sprang from her bower. "Give me a new thread," cried she, and in her hands the life took shape, a creature of the wild, smooth and flashing in the sunlight, who might gambol in the waves, but who also breathed air.
I didn't think I would survive long enough to feel my fall into the water, but after an eternity of rushing emptiness, I suddenly plunged into cold, red darkness, streaming with bubbles. It seemed familiar, but this time no one would save me.
Downward, downward I went, not sinking, but plunging fast into the darkness, streaming bubbles. Down toward the underworld, toward Safi. Except that my descent slowed, and I began to drift. As the bubbles cleared, I saw that not all light was gone; the water was deep green, and the surface shone far above. I couldn't lift my head to look at it; I had to tilt my whole body, for I was compressed somehow, my arms pressed against my sides, my legs drawn tightly in, my whole being inflexible. And strangest of all, my spine seemed to extend behind me, and when I thought about it hard, I could move it awkwardly up and down…
In the underworld, I was a fish.
Celebration and despair rushed through me at one, emerging in a strangled cry, a mournful warble. Was Safi also a mermaid? Or was she now on land, separated from me again?
I had to find her. Focusing with all my mind, I made my tail move, and twisted against the confines of my body, struggling through a turn toward the surface. All the while I cried out Safi's name, but my voice just came out as wordless high-pitched moans.
And then, as I neared the surface and the green of the water lightened, I heard similar sounds calling across the deep, and out of the gloom surged a group of thick, silvery forms with long noses and broad flat tails. They swam about me, rubbing against me, crying and barking.
Not a fish. A dolphin.
"Safi," I repeated, but if they understood my squeal, I still did not understand their response.
I swam on to the surface and pushed my head through it, into the warmth of air. Around me, steep rock walls climbed, green and shiny with lichen.
And hovering before me, bathed in the dancing, dappled light of sunshine through trees, was a woman dressed in a short chiton, girlish of figure but with eyes old as the earth.
I stared at the Huntress, at the rock walls, at the green water rushing into the tiny inlet and dashing itself against the rocks. This was not the underworld. This was my world, the world of the sea, and of the air. What was I doing here? Despair pressed up through my throat, and I crinkled up my eyes to hold back tears, but of course none came - instead a pained squeak emerged from my long snout.
"You are alive, Iphigeneia, daughter of Patrokladas, soldier of Cwytheros and lover of the mermaid Safroneia," the Huntress said. Her voice was soft as sunlight.
Why, I tried to cry, but my voice was a bark.
"This was what I could do. My domain is among the animals."
But I won't see her again… I didn't try to speak. A sad cry trailed out of my mouth anyway.
"Yes, you will," the Huntress said gently. "She was not destroyed."
My heart swelled. But the dream…
"You saw true," the Huntress said. "But Deos lifted her into the sky, where she will become the stuff of legend."
The sky. My heart contracted again.
"Do not despair, brave warrior," the Huntress said. She drew close, and pointed past me, out the narrow chasm where the sea thundered in. Far away a few last stars gleamed in the lightening sky. "You will find her, where the ocean meets the sky."