A/N – hey readers. I decided to re-do this chapter since the previous draft was such a mess. What can I say? It was a burst of inspiration that didn't come out in the way I had planned :L I hope you enjoy my first dabble into greek mythology :D Also this is my first time writing in the first person if anyone has any advice it would be very appreciated :)
Chapter one – my birth
"That's it. Maiden" I heard as I strained to extend my arms and legs.
"Come on my dear" I strained further, the encouraging voice pushing me on. Suddenly the soil above me gave way and I straightened my back. I fully stood, the taste if the earth still in my mouth, and felt the enveloping heat of the sun on my skin. A squeal of delight rang in my ears.
"It's not every day you see the birth of a mortal!" I opened my eyes and saw an angelic woman before me. Her violet eyes met mine and were full of excitement. Her waist length curls of blonde hair shone, golden, in the sunlight. Contrasting with her white feathered wings arched proudly and surrounding us as she moved closer. I noticed each feather was traced with silver that glimmered with every step. The silky material of her lilac chiton rubbed against my skin as she embraced me. I knew I would never forget the next words she whispered in my ear.
"Welcome to this beautiful land"
"I don't understand" I whispered back. She broke our embrace and held me at arm's length.
"Gaea has given your life and will provide all you need"
I could feel her words ringing true to my very core.
"You must meet the rest of your kind"
"What?" I gasped as she moved revealing a large crowd her wings had obscured. Varying in height and hair colour, they were all looking at Astraea eagerly. Unease began to weigh on me more than the earth.
"Come on" she squeezed my hand in reassurance.
"I'll be here every step of the way"
I swallowed hard and we stepped forward out of the overturned soil and onto the grass.
"I, Astraea, ambassador of the golden race of man introduce you all too…."
Astraea turned her head to me and inclined her golden head forward. I didn't know what she expected from me but the word was murmured from my lips before I could think.
"Callidora!" Astraea echoed. "Our new addition, Callidora"
The crowd continued to stand resolute just continuing to smile. As the unease in me began to rise the ground shifted under my feet. The shifts in the earth appeared to be from behind. I turned and saw the small patch of over-turned earth, where I had been born, shift and change before us. The earth and grass shifted back into its original place then as we looked on a tree began to sprout and grow. Before long a fully grown elm stood just where I had been born.
"I think Gaea approves of you Callidora" Astraea beamed at me but I could see in the set of her mouth something wasn't right. Her warmth had ebbed slightly.
Astraea walked to the base of the tree trunk where the elm bent a branch down, which she delicately broke off. She walked back to me curving the branch into a wreath.
"We have a new arrival to celebrate" Astraea placed the wreath on my head and traced the side of my face lovingly with her hand. Her touch now felt like ice to me. An echo of tradition and regimen. There so much I didn't know yet I felt in my core I knew this world more than anyone else.
"Callidora means the gift of beauty. It's definitely a fitting name"
I smiled weakly at the complement. Astraea then turned to the crowd spreading her silver gilded wings.
"We shall hold a celebration for Callidora. I'm going to announce the good news back at the palace"
The crowd remained eerily silent as they took in her commands and disbanded accordingly.
Astraea gave me one last smile and leapt into the air. As the crowd dissipated to their various tasks I could see the large flower meadow spread out around us. The grass was a bright emerald colour dotted with delicate flowers. The meadow ringed by the trees of the forest. Even from the distance of my mound I could see there were many different types mixed within the forest. Beyond the forest I could see the outline of mountains and Astraea's figure, sparkling silver and gold, growing smaller into the distance.
The crowd had now expanded across the meadow and into the forest collecting what Astraea had requested of them. But one had lingered. Her gaze shifting from the tree to me her hazel eyes fixed on mine. Somehow they were different from Astraea's. I couldn't see it but I felt that there was something that set them apart.
The earth still lingered in my mouth, drying my throat. The wrongness in her eyes left us standing in front of each other in silence for many moments. I managed a weak smile.
"Nice to meet you"
Like a spark setting light to dried leaves Xyanthe smiled at my reply. I could have sworn her hazel eyes were brighter, her posture straighter. Even her dark hair seemed to lighten a shade. I frowned, unsure of what to make of the womans change.
"Is there something wrong?"
Xyanthe asked as she walked in front of me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"No nothing. I was just wondering what preparations everyone is making"
"Oh, well there is a stream over to the south and the best place to pick fruit and berries is in that direction. There will also be wood collected for pyres and animals will probably approach the meadow soon."
Xyanthe seemed more animated as she pointed in the various directions our ken were moving in.
"What animals? Why would they come here for me?"
"Because it's what happens. When we need meat or food for a celebration those nearest will approach the meadow. Then they die and we are able to use them"
"Is a celebration like this done for every birth?"
Xyanthe's brow furrowed as if searching for the answer was causing her discomfort.
"I… I can't be sure"
"Wasn't it the same for yours?"
I could see Xyanthe tense and rub her temples.
"Never mind. These flowers, the purple ones they look nice"
The womans discomfort eased immediately as I diverted her attention.
"Yes their called an Iris. They actually have yellow on the inside as well"
Xyanthe bent over and picked a flower for me to admire.
"I didn't see that before, are these the only flowers?"
Eventually we sat at the base of the elm as I distracted Xyanthe with questions of the plants, the forest and the celebrations to come. All the time I had my eye trained on the horizon for Astraea's return.
It wasn't long before Astraea saw her Grandfathers mountain-side home, a distant glint of marble in the setting sun. As she flew closer the goddess began to glide to the enormous propylaea that served as a gateway to their home.
I must tell him the news
As she came closer Astraea lowered herself onto the flat marble platform Krios had built for his winged children, the titan objected to having his roof as a landing platform. When she felt the cool marble on her feet she rushed to the main gate. The gate itself was of simple construction, two large square towers with the doors between them. Every block of stone was made of stark white marble with deep azure veins tracing their way seamlessly around the structure.
The gate watchers spotted the approaching goddess and promptly bowed as the large doors opened. Normally she would have stopped to greet them but she was in too much of a rush to notice them now. She began to ascend the stairs these irritated Astraea slightly since she could fly up them in half the time. Eventually she had reached the top and was making her way through an entrance hall. A basic square of columns spanning the width of the stairs. Black curtains drifted lazily in the wind between them illuminated by an open roof, her grandfather always enjoyed the view of the night sky. There were loungers and tables with bowls and glasses lying in wait to receive company. But all were empty, alone and unused for tonight.
Astraea noticed the vacant seats.
Please don't have them visiting others today
The titans were close siblings and were very common visitors in each other's homes. Astraea brushed aside the layers of fabric and emerged from the other side of the hall. Krios' palace was certainly one of the most difficult to navigate. Astraea looked out onto the large complex built into the mountainside, ringed by the high marble wall. There were many smaller buildings for the descendants of the star titan's dynasty. Naturally the largest was Krios' own home with his wife Eurybia. This was the one Astraea was now making her way towards. Even though his home was open on the mountain side Eurybia insisted it remain at its most natural, a homage to her mother which Astraea had always respected her for. Astraea hastened her pace as she saw the sun begin to set behind the trees. Before long the titaness had reached the high columns of Krios' home, made of the same marble as the gates. She made her way up yet more steps and into the corridors of the palace.
Astraea called as she drifted from room to room, each lit by the soft orange of the setting sun. Eventually in a corridor she bumped into one of the servants of the palace.
"Your Grace. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Astraea acknowledged him as he bowed his head in greeting. She didn't recognise his boyish features. Her grandfather was always accepting new staff, but only when the mortals volunteered. They remained naked like the others not in service, mortals mostly volunteered to serve the gods out of respect rather than any status or force.
Astraea inclined her head.
"I'm sorry but I don't know your name. Could you tell me where grandfather is?"
The servant only smiled.
"I am Pacorus. I have only been here recently but I think…."
The man's voice trailed off as he counted on his fingers. With each count Astraea felt the urge to tap her foot impatiently.
"It is about the time master moves to the roof to watch the setting sun"
Great, the stairs to the roof are on the other side of the building.
Pacorus noticed the goddesses face fall
"I'm sorry my lady is there something wrong?"
"Well a mortal was born today and I don't want to miss the celebrations"
The servants face lit up.
"That is amazing news!"
Ignoring his exclamation, Astraea grinned noticing a wide window over the mortals shoulder.
"Thank you for your help Pacorus"
Before the servant could respond Astraea was brusquely walking down the corridor, her wings spread wide.
Within moments Astraea was landing on the roof. Instantly she spotted where Krios and Eurybia were lying on pillows watching the sunset in each other's arms.
Astraea saw the last rays of the sun were gleaming on the horizon and approached in earnest. She cleared her throat.
"Grandfather I have some news"
The couple jumped, shocked out of their moment together. Krois turned on the pillows to face her. His short, sandy, hair slightly tousled where Eurybia had run her hands through it and his deep midnight blue eyes glinting in the brightening starlight. He was always more vibrant at night.
"Astraea my dear it's a pleasure to see you"
He turned mischievously to Eurybia.
"However unexpected it maybe"
The titan asked as he rose, straightening out his black chiton and adjusting the position of his dark blue himation on his tall muscular frame.
"And how is it you reached the roof so fast?"
He added raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"A mortal was born today I know you want us to report every birth"
Astraea replied ignoring her grandfather's queries.
"Hmmmm that's great news but not exactly worth your effort of flying all the way here and disturbing our evenings….. entertainment so abruptly. Is there something else?"
"I was hoping that we could talk about that privately but it can wait if you're erm….. busy"
Eurybia giggled at Astraea's last statement.
"There's no need. Remember I am your grandmother too and frankly if I stood up now it would compromise my dignity a bit"
The titaness glanced at the discarded pins and belt as she propped herself up better on the pillows, gathering the material of her sea blue chiton as she did so.
Astraea stood nervously glancing to Krios then to Eurybia, she cleared her throat.
"When the mortal was born, her name is Callidora, an elm tree grew where she had come from the earth and her looks, or more her aura, are akin to a goddess. She could pass for one of us with the right clothes"
The couple looked at Astraea as if she had gone mad. A few moments passed before Krios opened his mouth to speak.
"I'm not sure what you're getting at my dear. It's not the first time Gaea has propagated a tree on a birth mound and as for looks I'm not too sure where that would be of any concern"
Astraea looked to the now dark horizon in frustration and saw the Aries constellation, Krios' symbol, rise in the sky.
"I mean that I get the feeling something bad is happening. Gaea can be prophetic, right? An elm means the death of a state of existence. I've seen olive, pine even the odd cypress but never an elm in the event of a birth"
She raised her arm gesturing to the Aries constellation.
"And she is born on the first night of the rising of your constellation, a sign of the spring and new year, a symbol of renewal. She is born in the south, your province, on the rise of your constellation. I think her appearance is conformation that Gaea has intentionally interfered and created this woman out of the normal cycle as a sign. I can't think what but it's all indicating an end. Don't think i haven't noticed the decline in births recently, you wouldn't be concerned if you didn't want each one reported"
Eurybia brushed back a wisp of black hair and looked at Astraea in concern.
"I think you're putting together pieces that aren't there. Just because you've never seen an elm doesn't mean it's never happened. I know mother. She has never been known to be subtle and as for her gift of prophecy, as a free spirit, she can be a bit dramatic at times. Honestly dear you should just enjoy this as any other birth. As for the cycle births are the same as they have ever been."
"No you don't understand I feel a change in the cycle of mortals. I've spent enough time as their ambassador. There are less births but the number of spirits being taken back into the earth is the same. There is something going on and Callidora is the cosmos warning us about it"
Krios placed a hand on Astraea's shoulder reassuringly.
"It's nothing to worry about. Numbers of mortals as with any other earth-dwelling creature are bound to go through their phases of bounty and decay, it's only natural."
Krios could see this wasn't of much reassurance to his granddaughter and sighed.
"How about you keep watch on this mortal? If there turns out to be a sign then you can come back and we'll look into it. But for now there truly is nothing to worry about, life is as good as it has ever been."
The titan then joined his wife on the pillows.
"For now go and celebrate, it's a beautiful night"
"Fine, but I'll be back if there is anything new"
Astraea spread her wings and started her flight back to Callidora's birth celebration, leaving the titans to their evening together.
"I hope she comes back in time" I said nervously, tapping my fingers restlessly on the ground.
"Her grace will be back, she said she would after all"
I gave Xyanthe an exasperated look, not that she could see it. She was behind me braiding various flowers into my hair for the celebration. The two of us had spent most of the day together in the meadow. Just as Xyanthe had said various boar and large animals had come to the meadow, settled and lay still. For the others it was normal stroking the fur of the animals who had willingly appeared at our convenience, but to me it felt wrong. Did they have a choice in this? And if they did was it right for us just to use them in such a way? Surely they have lives like ours, are they less because we don't understand them? Nevertheless I remained silent. If Xyanthe's initial reaction to my questions on the past were anything to go by those questions would have to wait. I continued to watch as the wood pyres were piled up and, when the sun eventually set, were set alight one by one. Their light didn't quite reach us sat at the foot of the elm but the full moon gave a soothing pale hue to the tree bark and grass. It was still plenty for Xyanthe to carry on her work.
"How can you be so sure?"
I sighed watching the starlit sky between the leaves of the elm. I felt her hands pause slightly before picking up the next bloom. Obviously this was another problem question.
"Because her grace gave us her word"
We sat in silence then, looking at the multitude of blinking lights. I had to admit the wonderful sight soothed me a little. There was something about the night sky, despite it being my first time seeing it, that I knew I would never get tired of. As more of the pyres began to light and dark of the forest grew deeper I let my mind drift.
"There all done, ready for the celebrations"
From the tone of her voice Xyanthe seemed pleased with her work. I couldn't see but when I ran my hands over the blooms and the braids in my auburn hair they felt seamlessly woven together.
"Thank you but I'm not even sure what to do at this thing anyway"
I said, bringing my knees to my chest. Xyanthe moved to sit next to me.
"Like the boar and fruit bearing trees everyone knows in themselves what to do. There is no need to worry"
I pondered this for a while. Did we know because we had free will? Or was it because there was something in us that was being told what to feel? Xyanthe and I had become very close over the day we spent together but I had to wonder how she spent her days before my birth. She didn't seem to have this kind of bond with the others. Xyanthe continued to reassure me.
"We live on earth provided with everything we could ever need throughout our lifetime. Including our direction and instinct…"
I continued to listen to Xyanthe talk whilst watching the other people carrying on with the preparations, cooking the meat and arranging the fruit. Then a distant silver glint caught my eye. At first I thought it was a star but as I looked more intently I realised the star was moving towards us. As the silver glint moved closer I could see the outline of a woman.
"Astraea! She made it"
I shouted running forward waving my arms. Astraea smiled and waved. Before her feet even touched the ground Astraea pulled me into a hug.
"I told I would be back Callidora"
"I thought you were going to miss it"
We broke our hug. Astraea laughed and straightened the elm garland on my head. For a moment the concern was back in her eyes when she looked at me fully, noticing the flowers in my hair.
"I see you've been busy, it suits you wonderfully"
I was about to reply when we both heard panting behind me. Xyanthe had caught up with me and bowed her head to Astraea.
"Welcome your Grace"
Astraea smiled at Xyanthe then turned to me
"Shall we get this started then?"
It wasn't until then I noticed the people crowding around us. Xyanthe took my hand and gently pulled us back to the front of the crowd.
"What's going on?"
"Her grace will begin"
Astraea's raised her hands above her head and spread her silver wings wide.
"I, Astraea, ambassador of the mortals, daughter of Astriaos titan of the dusk and of Eos titaness of the dawn, announce the arrival of a new mortal to this world. Callidora!"
I could hear Astraea's voice resonate within me, across the meadow and to the land beyond. Astraea herself was a sight to behold and when I looked round. The other mortals were staring intently at the titaness as if they were looking directly into the sun, basking in its warmth. Astraea spoke once again in her rapturous voice.
"May she be provided with everything she needs, may she be happy throughout her life until sleep takes her once again, may she be protected and never feel fear"
With these last words Astraea walked towards me and took my hands. They were cold to the touch and I could feel the hum of the power flowing through them. Now that she was this close I could see a slight golden hue to her skin. Suddenly tendrils of the faint golden light worked their way up my arms and across my chest. Astraea looked into my eyes, clearly this hadn't happened to her before. She quickly released my hands and the light died away. The mortals around us were like statues still trained intently on the titaness, oblivious to the clear look of concern on her face. For many moments the world was still before she composed herself and announced the start of the celebration.