Nothing worth talking about happened for the next couple of weeks. Unless you consider the Muses’ idiot governor spending most of his spare time on Helicon thinking he could save a two-faced liar from hirself worth talking about. I don’t.
I wished my sister Melpomene shared that sentiment. She and I had been hosting a joint theater workshop at the Corycian Cave in preparation for the Pythian Games. I was training my human worshippers in the art of comedy, and she was training hers in tragedy. “I’m so going to take home that trophy this year,” she playfully taunted me when practice was over and our contestants had cleared out.
“You wish,” I mustered a retort from behind my comic mask.
“I know I will if you keep this up,” she said. “You go back and forth between driving your contestants into the ground and hardly paying attention to them at all.”
“Part of comedy is the element of surprise,” I shrugged. “Gotta keep ’em guessing.”
“I couldn’t help noticing that sketch where the antagonist named Schmadonis-”
“A very common name.”
“- Gets carved into bite-sized pieces and fed to vultures,” Mel said. “I never would’ve thought to play that for laughs, but you did make it work.”
“Yep, I’m a friggin’ comedic genius.”
“Honey, are you doing alright?”
“I’m fine, Mel!” I snapped. “It’s just…everything’s so…I don’t…I’m fine, okay?”
Mel held out her hand and caught a teardrop that dripped out from under my mask. “You want to just sit here and be fine together for awhile?” she offered.
“Yeah,” I accepted. “I’d like that.” We sat down right inside the cave. Mel took my hand. I didn’t take it away.
“Maybe later we can find a human ignoramus and turn it into a famous politician,” she offered. “We both love that, and we haven’t done it in so long.”
“I do love that.”
Later that week, I tried escaping to my hollow for some me-time. Alas, I found Echo, who had been anxiously waiting for me.
“Did you ever tell Callisto whether her baby was a boy or a girl?” she asked before I had a chance to dismount Pegasus.
“Oh man, Echo, I forgot all about that! I’m so sorry.” I really had forgotten, and I did feel bad about it. I’d also practically forgotten about the whole matter with Callisto, Artemis, Athena, and the Fates. I’d been steering clear of Athena as per her request. Artemis had been avoiding everyone. She’d drive the moon, go to bed, get up, drive the moon again, go back to bed. Her hunters had been operating under a substitute commander chosen from within their ranks. Apollo would’ve never let this go on so long under normal circumstances, but he’d been preoccupied. Likewise, Artemis’ own preoccupation was surely the only reason she hadn’t put an arrow through Adonis’ excuse for a heart.
“So you don’t know where Callisto is?” Echo asked.
“No. Don’t you?”
“After the baby shower, she went home with a couple of the other girls. I didn’t think anything of it when she didn’t come back the first day, or the second day, or the third day, or the fourth day, and I was kind of worried by the fifth day but Pan said not to worry about it so I didn’t worry, but then it was a whole week, so I asked the girls she went home with and they both thought she was with me. She’d gone out for a run the day after the party and she never came back. We’ve talked to all the other hunters, and none of them know where she is. They all thought she was with someone else or with me, but I guess I’m someone else too.”
“Has anyone asked Artemis about her?”
“Artemis hasn’t talked to any of us and we’re all scared to,” said Echo. “But I thought maybe you could ask her or at least ask Apollo to ask her.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Meet me here tomorrow.”
Having a conversation with Apollo was the last thing I felt like doing, so I chose the much dumber option. Since I knew Artemis wouldn’t answer a summons from me, I teleported to the Olympian stables to wait for her. She should be there soon. Lately she’d been setting out in her chariot hours before Helios got home. But it turned out I wasn’t the only one waiting for Artemis.
Fortunately, I saw Hera before anyone saw me. I ducked behind a stack of hay bales and hoped it wasn’t feeding time. Artemis approached as I had predicted. When she saw Hera, she started to turn away from her.
“Artemis!” Hera’s sharp voice froze her. “I’ve been summoning you all day. Why haven’t you answered me?”
“I was asleep,” she said with a clenched jaw. “Does that offend you, my lady?”
“Please, not even a mortal needs the amount of sleep you’ve been taking,” Hera disregarded her. “There’s a bear near my pastures and I need you to take care of it.”
“Has it eaten any of your cattle?” asked Artemis.
“No, but it will soon enough,” said Hera. “You’re not leaving with this chariot until you dispose of it.”
“There’s no need to kill it,” Artemis said. “I’ll take it to my woods. There are plenty of deer there. Bears have to eat their fill so there aren’t too many deer to share the vegetation.”
“Artemis, I want it dead!” Hera ordered. “Now, you can take it down yourself with one clean shot, or I can find someone else who’ll try their best, inferior to yours though it may be. Those are your options.”
“Fine,” Artemis resigned. Her eyes were as numb as her voice. She was too tired to fight. She and Hera teleported to the pastures.
I ran to the kennel, took one of Artemis’ hunting hounds, and teleported to the pasture myself. “Find Artemis, but keep us hidden,” I whispered to the hound. She led me though brush and tall grass until we came in view of Artemis and Hera on the outskirts of the pasture. We laid under a shrub tree, shielded from the two goddesses’ sight.
“There it is,” Hera said quietly as she pointed into the thicket. I could see the bear perfectly with my spectator vision. It was gigantic, lumbering, almost grotesque in its massiveness. Its claws must have been a foot long, and I could’ve lost an arm in its fur.
“I can’t shoot her; she’s pregnant!” Artemis protested at a similar volume.
“How can you tell?” Hera was taken aback.
“I’m the protector of animals and pregnant women,” said Artemis, her tone warning Hera not to tax her with more stupid questions.
“Very well,” said Hera. “Protect that pregnant animal from being hunted by a clumsy amateur.”
“I can’t hunt that bear any more than you, the Goddess of Marriage, can cheat on your husband.”
“Don’t think of it as a hunt, think of it as an execution!” Hera hissed. “Get it over with before I rip that bow and quiver off your back and do it myself.”
“Whatever,” Artemis returned to her numb state. “I’ll shoot it and dispose of the body, and then I’m getting back to my real job.”
But then, the bear saw Artemis. She turned her enormous head and made deliberate, anguished eye contact with the golden huntress. She held up a paw and groaned, not as though she were pleading for her life, but as though she were praying for death.
“I have to do this,” Artemis cried. “It’s better from me. Please be still; it won’t hurt so much,” she begged. “One sting and then you’ll sleep.”
In the blink of an eye, the arrow found its mark. The bear let out a roar as her immense body heaved to the ground. I held the hound, calming her from the shock of the impact and keeping her from running to comfort her mistress. Artemis couldn’t muster the effort to stop her tears from falling or to accompany them with audible sobs or a change of expression. “Satisfied?” she said to Hera.
Hera flicked her hand at the carcass. The great she-bear shrunk from view.
In her place was a tiny, naked, obviously pregnant nymph.
“Yes,” said Hera. “Now dispose of the body as you agreed.”
“What have you done?” Artemis shouted, staring in disbelief at Callisto’s still form.
“Me? I haven’t done a thing. You, on the other hand, seem to have solved both our problems.”
“If I’d wanted to solve my problem by killing my friend, I wouldn’t have needed to be tricked into it. And why in Atropos’ name would you- it was him, wasn’t it? Zeus did this? As…he…” Artemis fell silent. With rigid jaw and burning eyes, she sprinted toward Callisto’s body.
The hound broke away from me and shot after her mistress. Artemis looked over her shoulder and shouted, “Stay!” The hound obeyed. Artemis reached Callisto’s body and dropped to the ground beside it. “Go,” she said to Hera through her numb, involuntary tears. “Just go. I’ll take care of this.”
“So dramatic,” Hera tsked. Thankfully, she left.
“Come,” Artemis called to the hound. Again, the hound obeyed. “Come!” she repeated. Silence. “Thalia, here, now!” Artemis shouted. Speechless and trembling, I obeyed as well as the hound had. Artemis picked up the corpse. “I’m summoning my chariot,” she said. “Hold on.”
I held on to Artemis’ shoulder. In a flash, we four were in her silver chariot high above Olympus with the moon trailing behind us in a darkening, sunset-streaked sky. Artemis quickly wrapped the horses’ reins around a hook. They knew their route. Her hands were freed to tend to Callisto’s body.
“Cover her,” Artemis said to me. “Do your theater goddess thing.” Wordlessly, I snapped a hooded dressing gown onto Callisto’s corpse. “It’s safe,” Artemis said. “You can talk now.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I faltered.
“Not you,” she brushed me off. “Callisto, please, say something. Open your eyes if you can. It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Callisto’s eyes opened with much effort. “My lady,” she said weakly. “Please forgive me.”
“Don’t say that,” Artemis wept. “Don’t you dare apologize. Don’t you ever, ever apologize for any of this. I should have known. I should have believed you. Nothing can make up for the way I’ve treated you.”
“Dying in your arms is more than I ever dreamed of,” Callisto managed a faint smile.
“You’ll have to dream bigger, because you’re not going to die,” said Artemis. “At least not tonight. Not for Zeus’ crime and my stupidity. Thalia, can you hold her while I pull the arrow out?”
“Yes.” I could see now that the arrow had hit Callisto in a non-lethal spot. Removing the arrow should still have resulted in major blood loss, but as I predicted, Artemis used her healing powers to stop it.
“I’m so sorry,” Artemis kissed the closed wound. “I’m so sorry. I should have known.”
“I should have known it was too good to be true,” said Callisto. “It was so stupid, thinking there was any chance you could love me the way I love you. You’re one of the Twelve, and I’m just some silly little nymph.”
“Callisto, you were one of the best hunters I ever had,” said Artemis. “You being part of the team made it better. Seeing you always brightened my day. You were a very special part of my life, and I hated losing you. But that kind of desire, that kind of love, I don’t feel it for anyone. I never have. I don’t even think I can. But I do love you, the way I’d love you if you were my sister.”
“If I were your sister, I suppose this wouldn’t have happened.”
Artemis grabbed Callisto and held her tightly. She didn’t say a word for the longest time, but her face spoke volumes. Horror and rage fought for supremacy. Rage maintained a slight lead. At last, Artemis said, “I wish I could give you your old life back, but I’ll do whatever I can to give you a new one. I’ll build you a home in the night sky where I can protect you. Hera and —no one will be able to touch you. I’ll bring the other hunters to visit you as often as you want so you won’t be lonely. Will that be all right with you?”
“If you say it’s all right, I trust you,” said Callisto.
The constellations that you mortals see are only shells of the creatures that inhabit them. They’re kind of like houses, I guess, if houses were ships that sailed along a set course forever. The god who creates the constellation sets the course, and the creature inside the constellation has no power to change it. When the demigod Orion wouldn’t quit stalking Artemis, Apollo stuck him in the sky right in the path of the monster Scorpio, one of Zeus’ pets. They’ve been chasing each other in circles ever since.
“Where are you going to put me?” asked Callisto.
“I’ll put you between a couple of Athena’s pets,” said Artemis. “They’ll guard you.”
“Are you sure they won’t turn on me? A jealous Athena probably isn’t much better than a jealous Hera.”
“I don’t know why Athena would be jealous,” Artemis comforted her. Emotional intelligence, I concluded, must be in the blood.
Artemis worked all night on Callisto’s constellation. It was spacious and comfortable, and, in an act of poetic justice, shaped like a giant bear. Artemis set it between Draco and Leo, a dragon and a lion. Athena isn’t that original when it comes to naming her pets. My contribution was to give Callisto a new wardrobe and furniture.
“I guess I’ll go home as soon as we pull in,” I commented as the chariot neared Olympus
“Not until I can take you myself,” Artemis ordered. I couldn’t see any danger in teleporting back to the Museum. I could, however, see plenty of danger in arguing with Artemis at the moment, so I dropped the subject.
Artemis halted the chariot and Athena appeared in it. Athena’s countenance was that of a woman who’d been ignored by the object of her affection for weeks and was now being summoned as though nothing had happened.
“What?” she greeted Artemis.
“Teleport Thalia to my quarters now,” Artemis issued her rushed directive. “I’ll be there as soon as I put up the horses and the dog.”
“You can’t take Thalia yourself?” Athena replied.
“I can’t let her be seen with me.”
“Why? Is she pregnant, too?”
I silently but vigorously shook my head.
“I’ll explain everything as soon as I get there,” said Artemis. “Just please, take her.”
Athena took me to Artemis’ quarters. “I don’t suppose you can tell me what this is all about?” she asked me.
“I think Artemis needs to be the one to do that,” I said.
“Can you at least tell me why she thinks you need a bodyguard?”
“Because she’s Apollo’s twin?” I attempted to lighten the mood. I failed. “I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been and saw something I probably shouldn’t have seen,” I tried again sans levity. To my relief, Athena accepted that answer without further question. We sat down on the couch and waited for Artemis. I wrapped myself in a blanket because I felt like it.
Artemis arrived. She sat down between us and told Athena the whole story. Though, curiously enough, she left out the conversation where Callisto said she was in love with her. “I don’t know what to do from here,” Artemis concluded the story.
“You’ve done everything you can,” said Athena, going into strategy goddess mode. “You’ve removed Callisto from danger, and you’ve made provisions for her future.”
“That’s not everything,” said Artemis. “I still have to make him pay for it.”
“Artemis, no!” Athena grabbed her arm. “Have you lost your mind? You can’t attack Zeus!”
“Why not?” Artemis demanded.
“Because you’ll lose! Why do you think no one in the Pantheon has ever challenged his reign? Why do you think Hera only goes after his mistresses?”
“Don’t you dare call Callisto a mistress,” Artemis shouted in a whisper. “Do not try to pretend there was anything consensual about what Zeus did to her.”
“I didn’t mean-”
“I’m sick of all the pretending,” Artemis went on. “When is someone going to call it what it is? When is someone going to stand before Zeus, face him, and call him what he is?”
“Can it please not be today?” Athena begged.
“And what about Hera? When is someone going to tell her to her face what we’re all thinking? That she could be using her power to aid his victims, but instead she punishes them because she’s a petty, self-centered coward who wants to make sure they’re as miserable as she is?”
“Not today,” Athena repeated, tightening her grip on Artemis’ arm.
“They can’t kill me,” said Artemis.
“And you think that’s the only way to hurt someone?”
“I don’t care about getting hurt. Callisto was assaulted on my watch, and I punished her for telling me it happened.”
“And now you want to punish yourself,” Athena deduced.
It was then that I remembered my throat could make sounds which, if arranged in recognizable patterns, would allow me to communicate with those around me. “Artemis,” I said, “please, think about what it would do to your brother if anything happened to you.”
“What could happen to me?” she said. “Say Zeus hits me with a lightning bolt. I’ll be stunned and in pain, maybe for an hour, maybe for days, who knows. It’s different depending on the target and the force of the attack. But I can’t die.”
“Will you please use your head for once?” said Athena. “You know Zeus’ lightning bolt supply is finite now. If you’re so set on getting revenge, wait until he runs out.”
“Use my head for once?” Artemis thrust Athena’s hands away from her. “Like you do every time someone suggests it’s just possible that you aren’t the hottest, most talented thing in the universe?”
“At least I don’t flip out every time someone suggests I am hot,” Athena shot back.
“Forgive me for thinking there’s more to being a goddess than making sure I’m the center of attention all the time.”
“You’re the only goddess who can’t handle any attention,” Athena accused. “Why? Why can’t you accept that you’re beautiful, and that people see that, and that sometimes they fall in love with you?”
“I know they do. That’s when I shoot them.”
“Desire doesn’t have to be a threat,” said Athena.
“You’re going to lecture me on threat identification? You turned that mortal woman, Arachne, into a spider because she said she was a better weaver than you,” Artemis argued. “How was that a threat? Unless it was true. It could’ve been, for all I know. None of us got to see Arachne’s tapestry. You shredded it before anyone had a chance.”
“You’d thank me for that if you knew what was on it,” Athena said quietly.
“And now I never will know.”
“That was my intention.”
“Yes, another fine example of the Goddess of Wisdom using her head!” Artemis seemed to be addressing me here. I shrank into my corner of the couch a little more, hoping they’d go back to ignoring my presence. I wished I could help the situation, but they were beyond the reach of humor. What could I do? I thought of summoning Apollo, but I knew he’d be even more freaked out than Athena at the thought of Artemis leading a charge against Zeus.
“Alright, you want to know what was on the tapestry?” said Athena. “Which was, incidentally, the finest work I’d ever seen by a mortal. Every detail was perfect. You would have sworn you were looking at a painting.”
“What was it?”
“It was a porno extravaganza of Zeus’ most famous animal shapeshifting ‘affairs’. Guess who made the center?”
Artemis fell silent.
That lasted for about three seconds. “My mom’s not a whore,” she said.
“I know that,” Athena tried to calm her.
“She only let Zeus do the quail thing with her so her sister could get away,” said Artemis.
“I know that,” Athena tried again.
“I don’t care who says otherwise; coerced consent isn’t consent at all.”
“Artemis, I know that! That’s why I didn’t want anyone, especially you, to see that damned tapestry! I didn’t want you to be hurt then, and I don’t want you to be hurt now. So I’m begging you, please,” she said as she took Artemis’ hands with a gentle urgency, “take some time to rest and clear your head before you run off on some vengeance kick.”
“If you were really my friend,” said Artemis, “you wouldn’t try to stop me, you’d help me.”
“Your friend?” Athena laughed in frustrated disbelief. “If I were really your friends? Yeah, okay. Maybe you have a point. You spend most of your spare time with me. You tell me everything about your life. Every triumph and every trial, I’m the first one you bring it to, and you’re always there for me to do the same. You hold my hand for no reason. You tease me all the time, and you blush when I tease you back. You get defensive when other people flirt with me. You tangle my hair just so you can comb it smooth again. You sleep in my quarters as often as your own. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not really your friend.”
Artemis stared at Athena like a deer that knows it’s been cornered by a pack of hounds. “Let go of me,” the words forced their way out of her tightened throat. Athena let go. Artemis sprinted out of the room and into the corridor.
“Aren’t you going after her?” I asked Athena.
“Why did I say that?” Athena fretted, more to herself than to me. “I knew she’d do that. Why did I say it? Why is the one thing that means more to me than anything else in the world the only thing I can’t keep my head about?” She turned away from me. “Thalia, you go after her. Please. If I do, I’ll just make things worse.”
Still numb with shock, I obeyed. I ran out the door in the direction of the throne room, guessing that was where Artemis was heading. An unwelcome sight stopped me as I rounded the curve.