CHAPTER ONE

It was Calypso herself who met him on the shores of Ogygia, her island, the land without anchor in the sea without end. He was half-dead, drunk on saltwater, sea-mad and exhausted, but he was mortal and he was alive. She considered him as he trembled at her feet, every breath a last desperate effort as the thin golden line of his life shrank until it was half the size of a spider's thread.

"Hermes," she said, and the god became visible beside her, slipping into the mortal plane without a sound, his feet leaving no footprints on the sand.

"You did not call me," he said. It was not an accusation, nor entirely a question.

"I did not have to."

"You always have before."

"And you have always come."

He smiled but did not answer, refusing to be distracted by archaic protocols. Only the greatest of the gods could command the Messenger but he had never refused her summons, nor withheld his aid. It had taken hundreds of years to earn his pity but after she'd been granted that it had taken only moments to earn his friendship.

"Why did you not call me?" Hermes pressed.

"He is at Hades' gates."

"He can be called back. Others have gone farther and have yet returned. You know this."

She did. Many of those who had been retrieved of late had been retrieved on her behalf, torn from the Fates just before Atropos's shears parted their last mortal breath from their mortal body. Perhaps it was unnatural to save yet another. Mortals died. That was the choice they'd made long ago, and even Hermes, Healer, Protector, sacred guardian of those on the threshold between one world and the next, would never truly be able to spare them that.

Before she'd found a reply the man stirred, perhaps sensing their presences, the god's-auras they hadn't bothered to shed, or maybe realizing that the world around him had become much more solid than it had been before. His eyes opened and he coughed once, a harsh, rasping sound that spoke of desperation and despair. The glamour protecting Ogygia still shut his eyes to their presence, to the sun above him, to anything more than mists and darkness. He would see only a cloudy, deserted, unfriendly shore, would surely now believe he would soon die, lost and far beyond the reach of any possible aid. He raised his head then pulled his arms to his sides, pushing against the sand, somehow rising to his hands and his knees, the effort required thinning his life-thread even more. It was too much. He collapsed to his side, his eyes closing, broken yet peaceful, helpless yet strong, and it was this that reached her, brushing her heart, his mortal strength revealed only in the farthest extremes of his mortal weakness.

"He fails," Hermes warned, tense at her side as the life-thread became almost imperceptible, a glint floating in the air, and still Calypso lingered for the space of an immeasurable moment, caught in the crossroads of hope and defeat, pity and defiance. Hermes was practically vibrating, his essence demanding action of him, yet he waited on her word. The choice was hers. Life and death were hers. Her curse, her command.

"Save him."

Hermes moved as quickly as thought, shredding the remains of the glamour as herbs and liquids of unknown purpose appeared in his hands and were transferred to the mortal's skin, his mouth, the lines of his throat and collarbone and ribs. The life-thread seemed to waver for a breath-stopping moment under this new assault but then thickened, the gold returning from a pale, bleached white to a more robust and yellowish tone. The man stirred and breathed easily again, a flush of health blooming into his cheeks, and Calypso studied him, her new refugee, her new lover. He would be tall when he was standing, and young, incredibly young in the way that they were always young, beautiful, heady and perfect as the flower is most perfect in full bloom just before it fades and rots.

"He'll live, of course," Hermes said encouragingly, his art finished in the time it had taken her to look away. "He has a strong heart." She smiled bitterly, refusing the hope offered to her even though it would do neither herself nor the mortal any good. For however long or brief a time this mortal now had a share in her curse; joy and affection and yes, even hope, would live in her again until he was gone.

Hermes left the mortal to lie for a few moments more before taking him to his chambers without waiting for her to request it. The lines were as useless as the script they were a part of. Hermes knew where to find him, how to heal him, where to take him next and what to tell him when he woke. Dexithea would show the man Ogygia, taking him to Clio to hear its history during the day and to Apollo to hear his future during the night. The dryads and naiads would show him the trees and the streams that were the homes of their spirits if he was adventurous enough, and if not Pan and Dionysus would dance with him until his hesitations had been overcome. Artemis would test his skills in the Hunt that was her endless passion, Hephasteus would see if he was of creative mind and intelligent spirit. He would meet all the gods and their immortal city, be drunk on wine and song and the magnetism of the eternal divine, and she, Calypso, would love him whether he was cruel or kind, quiet or brash, licentious or chivalrous. With her whole heart she would thirst for him, for the dream he held unknowingly, the promise of a world she had lost so long ago, a realm she'd been torn from as though it was her soul itself that was jerked from its moorings and set adrift where her body could not follow.

It was a cruel and endless dance she was trapped in, her own immortality as much a prison as this island, and she stood on the beach and imagined, as she had so many times, what a relief it would be to die.