I mentioned Mom in my last installment, but it’s occurred to me that since not much is known about her, some introductions are probably in order. Our mother is Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory, Daughter of the Titans Uranus and Gaia. She lives in the kingdom of Hades and presides over a lake at the mouth of the Five Rivers. The lake is named after her. When most mortals enter the realm of Hades, they drink from the nearby lake, Lethos, to forget their earthly lives. A chosen few drink from Lake Mnemosyne. What happens to them, you ask? Can’t tell you. It’s a secret. That’s why they’re called the Mysteries. There are also a few different ceremonies in which select gods drink from Lake Mnemosyne. I can’t tell you what happens to them, either.
On the subject of our parentage, it’s commonly believed that Zeus is our father. We actually don’t have one. Mom made us herself. She gave birth to us in Lake Mnemosyne. We lived with her at the lakeshore for the first year of our lives. Then, once we were fully grown, we swam through the depths of the lake and sprung to the surface, creating the Springs of Helicon. All Hades broke loose.
It didn’t take us long to develop a reputation for being just a tad chaotic. We’re nowhere near the level of gods like Dionysus and Pan, and Aphrodite’s misadventures continually defy even our imaginations, but we are the goddesses of the arts and sciences. We challenge the status quo. We live for subversion. We think outside the box.
Then we tear up the box and Calliope writes an epic poem about the box’s journey, Clio records an accurate and detailed history of the box’s existence, Erato writes a song about the box’s loves, hopes, and dreams, Euterpe uses some pieces of the box to invent a musical instrument, Melpomene weeps over the box’s tragic end, Polyhymnia composes a chorus in nine-part harmony praising the God of Boxes, Terpsichore invents the box step, I fold scraps into smaller boxes, put them over my hands, and call them boxing gloves, and Urania uses the leftover pieces to make a perfect scale model of the stars’ positions on the day the box was destroyed. The day Apollo took up the newly-created position of Governor of the Muses, he became the box; but that has little to do with this story.
If anyone needed our help getting out of a box, it was Echo. I met her one day while I was exploring the slopes of Mount Parnassus alone. I’d been on good behavior long enough that Apollo had given me a day pass. I’d been wanting to go exploring ever since we’d moved from our old Museum by the Springs on Mount Helicon. I don’t know why Apollo couldn’t have moved into our place since there’s one of him and nine of us, but that’s beside the point. So anyway, I was exploring the slopes. I found an idyllic little wooded hollow so remote that it was surely inaccessible to mortals. There was no evidence of our kind, either. It was completely secluded.
When you have eight sisters, one overprotective glorified nanny, and a multitude of worshippers, solitude is the most rare and precious thing in the universe. I resolved that this hollow would be my secret. I would tell no one of its existence, not even Calliope or the Twerps. And then I saw her.
She was a dainty, pale slip of a nymph, and she looked as disappointed to see me as I felt to see her. I figured I should be polite, so I apologized, “I didn’t know anyone was here. I’ll leave.”
“I didn’t know anyone was here. I’ll leave,” she replied unhappily.
“No, you were here first. I just got here,” I protested.
“No, you were here first. I just got here.”
“Then I guess we both got here at the same time,” I smiled. She seemed so shy and scared.
“Then I guess we both got here at the same time,” she agreed.
“We can both stay. I promise I won’t bother you,” I offered.
“We can both stay. I promise I won’t bother you.”
“My name’s Thalia, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“My name’s Thalia, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“Really?” I was quite delighted by this. “Am I your godmother?”
“Really? Am I your godmother?”
At this point, I started to suspect something wasn’t right. “Random salad Cyclops griffon pickles,” I said.
“Random salad Cyclops griffon pickles,” she replied, looking like the personification of despair.
“You’re Echo,” I concluded. “I’ve heard of you.”
“You’re Echo,” she nodded her head vigorously. “I’ve heard of you.”
“You came here after…you were tired of just speaking other people’s words, weren’t you? So you came here, where there wasn’t anyone else. No, don’t talk, you can just nod yes or no.”
“No, don’t talk, you can just nod yes or no,” she repeated while shaking her head.
“Okay, so this complicates things. You have to speak when you’re spoken to, but you can just say the last sentence. Is that it?”
“Is that it?” Echo nodded her head.
“Can you speak your own words when there’s no one around to copy?”
“Can you speak your own words when there’s no one around to copy?” she shook her head no.
“So you can’t speak at all unless someone gives you words? That’s awful!”
“That’s awful!” she nodded sadly.
“Was it really Hera who did this to you?” I asked.
“Was it really Hera who did this to you?” she affirmed.
As I’ve mentioned before, if Hera were ever to determine that I was working against her in some way or was even in allegiance to someone who was…she couldn’t kill me, but Echo was proof that she could do worse.
“Look, I’m one of the Nine Muses,” I explained. “I don’t know if your curse can be broken, but my sisters and I can try our best. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll at least teach you ways to express yourself without talking. Follow me.” I held out my hand.
“Follow me,” Echo took it. Together, we floated back to the Museum.
Since my sisters were busy in the throne room writing out epics by hand, Apollo met us on the steps of the Museum. “Back so soon, Thalia? Who’s your lovely friend?” he gave Echo a warm, friendly smile.
Echo shyly turned her face to me and blushed. “Who’s your lovely friend?” she repeated.
Yeah, yeah, we get it. Nymphs are adorable. “Her name is Echo.” I gave Apollo a pointed look as I said my guest’s name.
“Her name is Echo,” she repeated, practically burying her head in the folds of my dress.
Apollo’s countenance dimmed significantly at this revelation. “Bring her inside, quickly,” he ordered.
“Bring her inside, quickly,” Echo concurred.
We took her in the back way and closed her in my room. Outside my door, Apollo demanded, “Have you lost your mind? Do you know what could happen to us and our families if Hera finds out we’re giving her victim aid and comfort?”
“I thought you’d be totally on board with this.” I honestly had. “‘Know Yourself’ is one of your creeds, and I can’t think of anyone who needs to get reacquainted with herself more than Echo does. Besides, Hera won’t find out,” I insisted. “She never spies on us. She likes me and my sisters, and as much as she hates you, she knows you’re an honorable, protective guardian who would never let any of us near her husband. We’re not worth her surveillance as far as she’s concerned. In the very, very unlikely event that Hera does find out, I promise to take full responsibility. You can claim you didn’t even know Echo was here, and I’ll back you up on it.”
“How would that help me?” he argued. “I am responsible for you and your sisters whether I own up to that responsibility or not.”
“May I remind you that it was a responsibility you personally requested?”
“Not unless you want to be confined to quarters.”
Sending me to my room? Was he freakin’ serious? “You personally requested this responsibility.”
“Go to your quarters and stay there until dinner.” Apparently so.
It took Apollo one second to realize that he’d just exempted me from sculpting class. It took me half that time to lock myself inside my room with Echo, leaving him outside in defeat.
“Thanks,” said Echo. I could tell she meant it. She looked worried, though.
“Hey, everything I said to Apollo about Hera not finding out? It’s true. We do have to be careful, though. We can’t let any visitors see you, and we definitely can’t let them hear you. But it’s no big deal; we hardly ever have visitors. And in case you haven’t heard, Narcissus died a long time ago, so you never have to worry about him again,” I comforted her.
“Never have to worry about him again.” She actually looked a little sad. I wished Melpomene or Erato were there. They were so much better with this sensitivity stuff. I’m a good neutral listener, but that technique sure wouldn’t work with Echo. Deciding against elaborating to Echo that her ex-lover had starved to death staring at his own reflection, I changed the subject.
“I know Apollo made it sound like I’m being punished, but there are all kinds of things to do in my room.” I directed her attention to my multitude of shelves, chests, bookcases, and wardrobes. “I’d rather stay in here and do my own thing anyway. Look. I have books, ink and paper, clay tablets, maps, musical instruments, paints and paintbrushes, clay and marble for sculpting, tons of costumes, materials for more costumes…what do you want to do?”
“What do you want to do?” she repeated earnestly.
“You can use whatever you want,” I urged her. “Pick something.”
“Pick something,” she motioned to me.
I could only conclude that she really did want me to pick something for her. “Do you play music?” I asked.
“Do you play music?” she nodded.
I got two kitharas and handed one to her. “We can sing rounds,” I suggested. “I’ll sing through the first time, and then you can repeat it after the first phrase starting the second time. Will that work?”
“Will that work,” she agreed.
We sang rounds for the rest of the afternoon. I made sure to use a wide variety of music. I tried to pay attention to which ones Echo liked, but it was hard to tell. From what I could figure, though, it seemed like our tastes were pretty similar.
Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. I showed Echo through the south wing that held our bedroom suites, through the empty open-air throne room that divided the Museum, and finally to the north wing that held our ballroom and dining hall. “Wait here,” I told her, positioning her in a vestibule just off the dining hall.
“Wait here,” she complied.
I went to the dining hall. My sisters and Apollo were already seated. I announced, “Everyone, I’m bringing a guest to dinner, and nobody can say a single word until she introduces herself, okay? Not a word.” I ran back and grabbed Echo. When we entered the dining hall, I whispered something in her ear.
“Hello, I’m Echo. I’m pleased to meet all of you.” She beamed at me in gratitude.
Melpomene snatched up the guest right away and sat her between herself and Erato. Terpsichore waved her hand at me from the other end of the long table. “Saved you a seat!” The seat she’d saved me was between herself and Apollo and across from Calliope. Apollo always sat at the head of the table, but other than that, there was no set seating order. It was impossible since the Muses have no seniority and no ranking system. Who can say which art or science is greater than another? Well, I can when I want to start an epic food fight, but this was no time for such things.
“I can’t believe you found Echo,” said Terpsichore. “Everyone thought she died or faded or something.”
“What are you planning to do with her?” Calliope asked.
“We’ll try to break the curse,” I said.
“That’s a wonderful idea!” Calliope declared. I knew I could count on her compassion and sense of a great story to override her need for order. Apollo, meanwhile, was choking on his wine. “Thalia, help him,” Calliope urged.
“He’s fine. It’s not like he can die or anything,” I brushed it off. “So, about Echo, I was thinking-”
“I thought you just wanted to shelter her!” Apollo hissed, having re-opened his windpipe. “Are you insane, trying to break one of Hera’s curses? And if you do break it, do you think you can get away with it? You are insane. I am officially declaring you insane.”
“Ooh, I’d need a full-time personal guardian then, wouldn’t I?” I taunted. “Someone to watch over me constantly. And this guardian and I should probably be isolated so I don’t pose a danger to anyone else. Do you know anyone who would volunteer for such a position?” I innocently inquired.
“The paradox is that whoever would volunteer must also be insane,” said Apollo. “How do you plan to break this curse, exactly?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I imagine it’ll take all ten of us to figure it out.”
“Nine,” Apollo corrected. Calliope said nothing, but her expression told Apollo that she was Very Disappointed in him. How could he just sit there knowing Calliope was Very Disappointed in him? I’d be rethinking my life. Though, to be fair, I’d be over it in about fifteen minutes.
“We’ll see,” I said, more to Calliope than him. “Anyway, I thought we’d start by helping Echo communicate through the arts.”
“You’re brilliant!” Terpsichore snapped her arms around me, causing me to drop my fork. “Dancing is the perfect form of wordless self-expression. I’ll start teaching her first thing in the morning.”
“You have your own dance practice first thing in the morning,” Apollo reminded her.
“But that would be all wrong for Echo,” Terpsichore argued. “The dances we’ve been doing are technically perfect, but they’re so structured and regimented. Most of the time, I feel like I might as well be drilling with Ares’ legion. No, Echo needs to just cut footloose. I’m sure she has the talent for it. She’s a dryad, after all.”
“I can’t let us abandon all semblance of order because we have a guest,” Apollo argued.
“A different order is still order,” Calliope admonished him. “I’m sure Thalia has some sort of structured plan in mind?” she looked expectantly at me.
As a matter of fact, I did. I don’t get much credit as an organizer since that was Calliope’s job until it was Apollo’s, but like any other theater deity, I’m a natural director. “The nine of us will work with Echo in three shifts of three. Whoever is on duty at the moment will set the present agenda as she sees fit.”
“I think that’s an excellent plan,” Calliope praised.
“Because it is,” I proclaimed.
“Do I get any say in this at all?” Apollo asked in mock deference.
“As long as you say yes,” I smiled sweetly.
“It is a decent plan,” he reluctantly acknowledged. “But I will be supervising all of these sessions.”
“You do realize we got along for centuries without a governor, don’t you?” I reminded him.
“Technically, Zeus was your guardian,” he reminded me.
“In name only. We were completely without outside supervision,” Calliope pointed out. “I made sure of that.”
“Those were the days,” Terpsichore sighed.
“…my friend, we thought they’d never end,” I joined her in singing. Everyone erupted into song, keeping time by beating their fists on the table. Everyone except Apollo, who motioned for me to join him in the vestibule.
“You can’t see why I want to supervise these sessions?”
“I see your logic, but look at it this way: three Muses training Echo leaves six Muses doing something else. In the unlikely event that Hera does look in on the Museum, it’s going to look better if those six are still following their normal routine, and you’re following it with them,” I explicated.
“You make a good argument, but I still think there should be one constant supervisor, if only for the sake of record-keeping. This seems like an interesting scientific study,” he countered.
“Then I nominate Clio. She is, after all, the historian of the family.”
“Fine. Every shift will be comprised of Clio and two others. Calliope can decide the pairings. There will be four shifts instead of three since eight will be rotating. Echo will sleep in your room.”
“As I intended.”
“Then it’s settled.”
“Whatever you say.”
That night, Echo was exhausted from all the dining room chatter. Good hostess that I am, I gave her the softest couch in my room to sleep on. I also kept silent all night to give her a break.
I’m a light sleeper, so I was able to more or less keep an eye on her. Gods and other immortals don’t need sleep to survive the way humans do, but sleep restores our powers, and sometimes our dreams tell us things.
And apparently, sometimes we talk in our sleep. I could hear Echo murmuring in anguish, “It wasn’t my fault…I didn’t know…Why me? I never touched him…no, please don’t!” over and over again. I didn’t know if I should wake her up or not. I did think it was very interesting that she was speaking her own words in her sleep, probably the last words she ever spoke on her own.
“Do you remember your dreams?” I asked her in the morning.
“Do you remember your dreams?” she shook her head. I let it go.
After breakfast, she went with Clio and the Twerps for her first lesson of the day. I joined everyone else for chorale practice. It wasn’t my turn with Echo until the last shift. Calliope had matched me with Erato. Comedy and lyrical poetry. It could work.
“Any progress?” I asked Echo.
“Any progress?” She pointed to a pile of swag on the lawn. There was a dancing costume obviously made by Terpsichore, a newly-made aulos (a funny-looking two-pronged flute; long story; I’ll tell you sometime) that had Euterpe’s style stamped all over it, a mournful stone bust of Echo that bore a distinct resemblance to Melpomene’s work, and an epic poem about her tale signed by Calliope.
“Play something for us,” Erato suggested. Clio, in the role of impartial observer, was silent as she scribbled away at her magic scroll.
“Play something for us.” Echo picked up the aulos and played a cheerful little tune on it. She was very good. I laughed at the way her dainty cheeks puffed in and out as she blew on the absurd instrument. She stopped, looking hurt.
“No, no, it’s okay, I was laughing in a good way,” I hastily comforted her. “It was a compliment. Making people laugh is an art.”
“Making people laugh is an art,” she repeated resolutely. She resumed playing, this time exaggerating her facial contortions to make the effect even more comical. As Erato and I laughed, she began tilting her head from side to side to the rhythm of the song she was playing. Before long, she was doing a funny little dance while she played the tune faster and faster.
“She’s hilarious!” Erato praised when Echo was finished.
“She’s hilarious,” Echo repeated proudly.
“You really have a gift for physical comedy,” I told her. “You want me to teach you how to mime?”
“You want me to teach you how to mime?” came her eager affirmation. Erato and I developed a story together with as much clumsy input from Echo as we could muster. Echo was a dream student. She had practically mastered the art of comic mime by the time our shift was over and we handed her over to Urania and Polyhymnia.
It went that way for the rest of the week. By day, Echo got better and better at whatever art or craft Erato and I showed her. But by night, she continued to relive her last true words. I was still far short of accomplishing my goal: breaking her curse. On the eighth day, I decided to call a meeting with my sisters. I left Apollo in my quarters with Echo so he could keep an eye on her. She had stopped flirting with him after the first day, so I figured it was safe. Not that it’s any of my business if girls flirt with Apollo. I was just thinking of poor Echo and her fragile psyche.
The nine of us were seated in the throne room. Calliope brought the meeting to order and delivered the floor to me. I strode to the center of the room and pounded my shepherd’s staff on the floor just to make sure I had everyone’s attention. “It looks like we’ve done a great job teaching Echo to express herself through the arts,” I opened, “but we’re nowhere near breaking the curse. If she still can’t converse beyond repeating whatever’s said to her, it’s not going to do her much good to be a brilliant comic mime.”
“And musician,” Erato reminded me.
“She’s the best dancer I’ve seen outside of our family,” said Terpsichore.
“And she can dance and play the lyre at the same time like nothing I’ve seen,” added Euterpe.
“That’s impressive that she’s so adept at comedy, because she has a real flair for tragic art, too,” Melpomene commented.
“She can’t write, though,” Calliope pondered.
Okay, that was interesting. “Are you sure? I could swear I’ve seen tablets and scrolls in a new handwriting,” I recalled. “In fact, you signed at least one of the tablets.”
“Well, she can spell,” Calliope clarified, “but she can’t compose. One could say I ghost wrote those epics.”
“Echo just writes down the last thing she hears,” Polyhymnia confirmed, “the same as when she talks.”
“She’s an outstanding astronomer, though,” Urania chimed in. “One look around my bedroom, and she was able to copy my star charts perfectly.”
“Clio, you’ve observed all her sessions,” I said. “Can you share your observations with us?”
“I was withholding judgment for as long as possible, but I think it’s safe to say that her curse extends past her speech,” Clio gravely replied. “She isn’t merely able to perform whatever art or science she’s shown. When she’s around it and its Muse, she acts like that art or science is the most wonderful thing in the world to her. I don’t think it’s a natural affinity.
“As you know, we’re all talented beyond mortal measure in our own and each other’s arts, and Apollo has powers in each of our domains. Still, we all have relative strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, we all have our preferences. I’m good at astronomy, and I like it, but I love history more, so I’m the Muse of History.”
“Sure,” Urania griped. “Anyone could do Urania’s job, it’s just not as cool as yours.”
“Echo, in contrast,” Clio ignored her, “seems to switch preference as well as skill according to whom she’s with at the moment.”
“She’s been alone with Apollo for awhile now,” I considered. “Urania, go tell him to come here. Stay with Echo while he’s gone.”
“Why do I have to go?” she resisted.
“It’s written in the stars,” I shrugged. She gave me a dirty look, but she went anyway. When Apollo arrived at the throne room, I asked him, “What have you and Echo been doing all this time?”
“Oh, give it a rest!” he defended. “You think I’d take advantage of that poor girl after everything she’s been through? I’m not Zeus. No need for you to turn into Hera.”
“A faulty comparison, seeing as we aren’t a couple,” I disclaimed with haste. “Besides, it was an innocent question. What did Echo do while she was alone with you? Rest? Sing? Play? Dance? Paint? What?”
“She didn’t do anything,” he reported. “I was curious to see which of your arts or sciences she’d taken to the most, so I brought some of my materials and instrument and offered her her choice of them. I was very careful not to steer her toward anything in particular. She just got this blank look on her face, sat down in the middle of the room, and didn’t move.”
“That confirms it,” Clio pronounced. “Either Hera’s curse extends beyond Echo’s tongue, or after centuries of having to repeat others instead of expressing her own original thoughts, Echo doesn’t even remember what her own thoughts are anymore.”
“She does when she’s asleep,” I contemplated aloud. “She dreams her last words, right before Hera cursed her. She speaks them over and over. Clio, maybe it isn’t either/or. Maybe not remembering is part of the curse.”
“Which means if she could remember, the curse would be broken!” Apollo reasoned. “I’d heal her if I could, but if you’re right, the curse isn’t just on Echo’s tongue, it’s on her soul. I can’t counter that kind of magic from a daughter of Titans.”
The answer came to all eight of us in a single moment. “MOM!!!”
“It’s alright, my darlings, I’m here.”
We could hear Mom, but we couldn’t see her. No one can see into the Underworld, not even Zeus and Hera. No one can teleport in and out of it except Hades, Persephone, Poseidon, and the Twelve, and even the Twelve need an invitation from a resident deity. “Mom, we need a favor,” I started.
“Of course you do. Fates forbid you should call your mother just to say hello.”
“You really should call your mother more often, Thalia,” Apollo admonished with a superior look that made me want to smack him.
“Is that Apollo?” Mom perked up. “I’ve always liked that boy. You know, you’re not getting any younger, and with nine daughters, you’d think I’d have more grandchildren by now.”
“And she wonders why I never call,” I muttered.
“I hear you, young lady! Don’t you talk like that to your mother!”
“Dearest darlingest Mumsie?” Terpsichore tried as she twirled to the middle of the room. “A friend of ours needs help, and we think you’re the only one who can give it to her.”
“What does she need, sweetie?”
“She has a curse on her soul. Do you think you could break it? Pleeeease? If anyone can do it, you can.”
“I’m sure I could,” we could hear the smile in Mom’s voice. “Bring her here and I’ll take care of it.”
“Bring her – what?” Calliope cried. But Mom was gone.
“Calliope, it’s okay, you can stay here while we take her,” I assured her. Calliope hadn’t been to Hades in ages. The last time she was there, she’d stood on the banks of Lethe crying after the soul of her only son as he disappeared into the Realm of the Dead, the only part of Hades barred to all but its King and Queen. The passing of Calliope’s mortal lover, Oegrus, had been natural and peaceful. But the murder of their demigod son, Orpheus, had sent her into mourning for a century. You’d think she wouldn’t have anything to do with Dionysus since his minions were responsible for the murder, but once her grieving had run its course, she reasoned that if everyone in the Pantheon stopped associating with people who’d wronged them, there would be no more unified Pantheon.
“No,” Calliope resolved. “Healing Echo may require all of our powers. There’s no other option. I’m going.” Stoic devotion to duty. I should have expected no less from the Muse of Epic Poetry.
“I’ll stay behind and guard the Museum while you’re gone,” said Apollo. “If anyone drops by, someone should be here to lie to them.”
“I hope this works,” Clio worried. “There’s no precedent for a nymph returning from Hades. Even for demigods, it’s a gamble.”
“Precedents don’t mean much to Mom,” Polyhymnia encouraged us. “There was no precedent for our birth, but here we are.”
“Then let’s go,” I rallied my sisters. We went to my room to get Echo. And Urania, whom we’d forgotten about by then. “Echo,” I brightly announced, “we’ve figured out how to break the curse.”
“Echo, we’ve figured out how to break the curse!” she sprang up and ran to us. She held her hands apart as if to ask how.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” I shrugged. “You just have to go to Hades and back.”
“Hades and back?”
We Muses teleported Echo to our old, empty Museum at the Springs of Helicon. From there we dove into the springs, carrying her with us, and swam through the dark tunnels to the Underworld until we surfaced in Lake Mnemosyne. The Kingdom of Hades was the same as ever. Cold and dark, at once foreboding and peaceful. Like the dark of night, it’s frightening because it’s full of the unknown, but it’s welcoming because it means a rest after a long, hard day.
I put an arm around Echo. Calliope boldly took the lead and strode to the bank. The Goddess of the Lake met her at the water’s edge. To the rest of the Pantheon, this dark, regal beauty is a mysterious spirit, a force who sought the deepest secrets of their souls and who somehow made them desire for her to discover those secrets. To us, she’s Mom.
“Calliope, my darling,” she embraced her. “I’ve missed you so much. Don’t stay away so long next time,” I heard her whisper.
The rest of us gave them a minute before starting the necessary rounds of hugs and kisses. When that was done, we introduced Echo to Mom. “I know who you are,” Mom gently took Echo’s hands. Echo returned her grasp without fear. “Narcissus passed this way ages ago. I have all of his memories. You were at once everything he wanted and everything he didn’t. On the one hand, you had no words of your own. You only had the words he gave you, and you only spoke them when he spoke to you. But on the other hand, you showed him what he truly sounded like, whether he wanted to hear it or not.”
“Whether he wanted to hear it or not,” Echo repeated. She started to cry.
Mom took Echo into her arms. “I know your story with my old friend Hera, too. She tells me many things. She told me how you would distract her with your pleasant chattering while Zeus was with your mistress. Hera was hurt, and instead of turning her wrath on the source of her pain, she turned it on the person she could hurt the most. You didn’t deserve this,” she softly soothed.
“You didn’t deserve this,” Echo said through her tears.
“Do you want your soul back?”
“Do you want your soul back?” Echo nodded. Mom carried Echo into the lake until both of them were submerged. Then Mom returned alone.
The Lake appeared eerily undisturbed, as though the ritual had never taken place. As though no nymph lay at the bottom. “Her soul is sleeping,” Mom told us. “Take her back through the Springs. If Hades and Persephone allow her soul to return along with her body, the curse will be broken. If not, Echo will still be happier than if she had continued in that existence.”
We carried Echo up through the Springs and laid her on the steps of our old Museum. Her eyes were closed. She was still, speechless, lifeless. We waited anxiously for her to open her eyes or say something, but it never happened. “There’s no heartbeat, no breath,” Clio ruled. “She didn’t make it.”
“We’ll have her funeral pyre here,” Melpomene declared. “At least we gave her one happy week before the end. Maybe she did remember herself, right before…”
“NO!” I shouted, shoving them away from Echo’s body. “This can’t be the end,” my voice broke. “It can’t be.”
“Honey, not every story can be a comedy,” Calliope tried to calm me. “Lots of heroes don’t get happy endings. We’ll mourn her death, we’ll remember her life, and before you know it, the world will feel right again.”
“I don’t want things to feel right, I want them to BE right,” I wrestled Calliope’s hands off my arms. “We’re taking Echo back to Apollo. He’s a god of healing. There’s got to be something he can do.”
“He can’t save her,” Melpomene insisted. “If he could restore life, don’t you think he would’ve brought back Coronis? His first love?”
“He only tried to bring Coronis back out of guilt,” I thundered, spitting her name out like poison. I had reached full-blown divine wrath mode. If I were able to wield Zeus’ lightning bolts, I would have been hurling them left and right. “That damned mortal cheated on him while she was carrying his son. Don’t you think there had to be some part of him that was content to let her die? Besides, he wasn’t working with me then, and I AM THE GODDESS OF HAPPY ENDINGS!”
“We’ll take her to Apollo,” Melpomene agreed, though I knew she expected to be mourning with me within the hour.
I had expected Apollo to be hesitant and doubtful when I petitioned him. I’m not sure he’s ever completely gotten over the whole ordeal with Coronis, the first and last time he ever tried to restore a life. Still, I hadn’t expected him to respond with silent terror.
“Look, I know you can do this,” I urged. “Her body’s still whole. You just have to restart it. Her soul can’t have even reached the mouth of the Styx yet. This isn’t like…like anything you’ve tried before.”
“Bring her to my chamber,” he said at last, his voice faint and almost quivering. “Only Thalia,” he added. I followed him, carrying Echo’s nearly weightless body in my arms. She was still whole as I’d told him, but she was starting to fade. I knew we didn’t have much time.
Once we were in Apollo’s quarters, he locked the door, covered the windows, and sent an orb of sunlight to the middle of the ceiling. He lifted a board in the floor and pulled out a small box. He waved his hand and produced a key. He opened the box with it and took out a vial labeled Gorgon’s Blood. As I held Echo in my lap, he put some of the black liquid from the vial on his finger and dabbed it under her tongue. “Keep holding her,” he ordered as he placed his hands on her. “Claim the ending of her story and pray Atropos’ shears are rusty. This cure was made for humans. I don’t know if it will work on a nymph.”
“What did you give her?” I asked. “Is it one of Asclepius’ potions?” Asclepius, Apollo and Coronis’ son, is the God of Medicine. Apollo is a great healer, but Asclepius, having devoted his entire life and all of his power to the craft, is the best.
“I’m telling you this because I think you need to know the story for this to work, and because I trust you not to retell it,” he warned. “Yes, this is Asclepius’ potion. I took it and hid it while he was dead.”
“Did you say ‘while he was dead’?” I clarified. Asclepius was alive. He and his wife and kids had sent us a lovely card at Solstice.
“When Zeus sentenced me to a year of hard labor for killing his pet Cyclops, did you ever wonder why I killed it?”
“I thought you were protecting your mom from another one of Hera’s attacks. We all did. But now that you mention it, Zeus never actually said that.”
“I killed the Cyclops because he killed my son. Asclepius had accomplished his life’s work: creating a cure for death. For that, Zeus ordered the Cyclops to execute him. I went after the Cyclops only because I knew that was the only way I could hurt Zeus. It worked. Zeus now has a finite supply of lightning bolts.”
I’d deduced that as soon as I’d heard of the Cyclops’ death, and found it rather ironic from the beginning. See, Hephaestus is only Hera’s son like I’m only Mnemosyne’s daughter. Because of that, Zeus kept the Cyclops as his private smith after Hephaestus joined the Twelve, even though Hephaestus was better. The Cyclops made the lightning bolts with a secret enchantment that allowed only Zeus to wield them. The lightning bolts are the only thing Zeus has on Hera, who is otherwise his only equal in power. So Zeus’ obsession with staying a step ahead of his wife caused the expiration date on his only means of doing so.
If it weren’t for the lifeless nymph in my arms, these musings would have completely distracted me from the story Apollo was still telling. “Zeus would have banished me to Tartarus,” he was saying, “but I was able to reason with him. Once the other gods found out Asclepius was dead and I was banished, they’d want to know why. They would learn Zeus wasn’t the only one with the power to restore life. So he resurrected Asclepius on the condition that Asclepius would never attempt to restore life again, and let me off with a relatively harmless (though soul-crushingly banal) sentence on the condition that we keep the whole affair secret.”
“I…I had no idea you’d been through all that,” I began a lame attempt at a response.
“Then I guess I’m doing a good job,” he laughed grimly. “But for all intents and purposes, you still don’t know. You can’t know. I don’t want you to be any different with me than you were before.” I knew he’d say that, and I had a pretty good idea the request wasn’t just for the sake of the cover-up. “Surely it goes without saying that you can’t repeat any of this to anyone, not even your sisters.”
“Of course I won’t,” I swore.
“Neither will I,” said Echo. “I’ll never repeat anything again if I can help it.”
“It worked, it worked, it worked!” Echo chanted as she pranced out to meet my ecstatic sisters. “I can talk now! Thank you all so much for everything; not just breaking the curse, but the lessons, and all the stuff you gave me, and just being there and being my friends! I haven’t had friends in so long! I haven’t had anyone in so long! I know what a dangerous thing it was for you all to do. Defying Hera like that, I mean. Scary stuff. Apollo says he’s going to get me a job with Artemis. She won’t tell anyone who I am, of course. It’ll be our secret. It’s going to be so much fun with her and her hunters! All girls, no boyfriends, no boyfriend drama. I leave tonight! I can’t wait! But I’m going to miss you all so much.”
“Well, before you leave, I have to know,” Clio jumped in while Echo took a breath. “Which of our arts is your favorite, really?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Echo answered, “Dancing!” Terpsichore gave a silent cheer as the torrent continued. “But the rest was fun to learn, too. I’m going to be the most well-rounded nymph in Greece! There’s so much I can talk about now! Oh, I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to talk again, and have something to talk about, and friends to talk to, and…”
Mel came close and whispered to me from the side of her mask, “Did we really do the right thing here?” But even though her mask was up, I could tell she was smiling.
“All packed?” I asked Echo as the sun was setting. We were alone in my room getting ready for her to leave. Artemis was going to pick her up on her way out.
“All – I am,” Echo laughed. She’d been going out of her way to avoid repeating people. “I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m still a little nervous.”
“You’re going to do great.” I was sure of it. “I’ve known Artemis for most of my life. She’s an honorable woman. I can guarantee she’ll never ask you to do anything stupid like distract her lover’s wife, or take the fall for her crimes. She always looks out for her own. And you’ll have all kinds of friends in her retinue. I’ve met a lot of her hunters, and they’re all really nice girls. Artemis has no patience for catty bitches.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fun,” Echo grinned. “Before I go, can I ask you something? I don’t expect you to answer right away, in fact, I don’t think you’ll be able to, it’s a complicated question, but promise me you’ll think about it, okay?”
“If you have the power to speak what’s on your mind and in your heart, why wouldn’t you use it?”
“Quite the philosophical riddle,” I soberly pondered. “Thanks. This’ll keep me occupied for days. I’ll need it, since it’ll be back to the old routine once you’re gone. It’ll give me something to do while I’m supposed to be paying attention to Apollo.”
She laughed. “I’d better get going. I want to say goodbye to Apollo and your sisters, too. I wish I could say goodbye to your mom, but I don’t think I ought to try that trip again. Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about the hollow where you found me. It’ll be our secret. I know you’ll want to go back. I left you a present there. You know, so you’ll remember me.”
“I could never forget you.”
But I was intrigued about the present. Once goodbyes had been said and everyone was asleep, I sneaked out to my hollow. I looked around, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a present. And then I heard it. The waterfall had been enchanted with Echo’s laughter. “Echo!” I cried with delight.
“Echo…Echo…Echo…” I heard my word dance around the hollow until it faded away. I laughed. My laughter joined with the laughing waters. The sound repeated and multiplied until it filled every corner of the hollow. Echo had enchanted the hollow so that it would be to me what she’d hoped it would be to her: a place where I could hear my own thoughts loud and clear.
I thought about Echo’s question to me. If you have the power to speak what’s in your heart and mind, why wouldn’t you? I could think of no simple reason and a lot of complicated ones. Most of them revolved around the idea of protection. But if none of those reasons existed, what words would I speak? What words would I let ring from every corner of this enchanted sanctuary? Which of my deepest secrets would I bare, secrets I had been keeping even from myself?
Whatever. I’d think about it more tomorrow while I ignored Apollo. In the meantime…well, the gleefully immature use of Echo’s gift that followed is best kept hidden in the hollow forever.