A Cronia Carol

Author’s Note: This is a bonus chapter set in the winter following the end of Snarled Threads. 


“On the first day of Cronia
Hermes gave to me
A Cronia message of glee

“On the second day of Cronia
Dionysus gave to me
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the third day of Cronia
Aphrodite gave to me
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the fourth day of Cronia
Athena gave to me
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the fifth day of Cronia
Apollo gave to me
Five mornings freeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the sixth day of Cronia
Artemis gave to me
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the seventh day of Cronia
Hephaestus gave to me
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the eighth day of Cronia
Ares gave to me
Eight hunks a-wrestling
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love songs
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the ninth day of Cronia
Hestia gave to me
Nine hearths a-blazing
Eight hunks a-wrestling
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love songs
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the tenth day of Cronia
Demeter gave to me
Ten fields a-growing
Nine hearths a-blazing
Eight hunks a wrestling
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronis message of glee

“On the eleventh day of Cronia
Hera gave to me
Eleven peacocks preening
Ten fields a-growing
Nine hearths a-blazing
Eight hunks a-wrestling
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of glee

“On the twelfth day of Cronia
Zeus gave to me
Twelve bolts of lightning
Eleven peacocks preening
Ten fields a-growing
Nine hearths a-blazing
Eight hunks a-wrestling
Seven weapons gleaming
Six hunters hunting
Five mornings freeeeeeeee
Four epic wins
Three love charms
Two hangovers
And a Cronia message of gleeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

“‘Twelve bolts of lightning’? Are you trying to get us all thrown in Tartarus?” said Melpomene.

“I think you should leave the hymns to me in the future,” said Polyhymnia.

“I’d call it more of a good-natured roast than a hymn,” I protested. “And, come on, give it up for the Twerps here. They worked so hard on that accompaniment.” Terpsichore waved her triangle wand in the air with a flourish, and Euterpe beamed from behind her harp.

Apollo appeared distinctly unamused, but I could tell there was a significant amount of effort going toward that appearance. I was wearing him down. “Since you were able to devote so much hard work to the project, apparently five mornings free is the last thing you need,” he said.

“I wrote it in, like, ten minutes, and they picked it up by ear,” I said.

“It shows,” said Apollo.

“And don’t you think including this number in our show on Olympus would be a lovely, spontaneous expression of Cronia merriment?” I said, clapping him on the shoulder.

“It would be whatever it needed to be to dissuade you from that course of action,” said Apollo.

I turned to the Twerps. “It was worth a shot, guys,” I shrugged. “Back to the drawing board.”

 Everyone disassembled and went their separate ways. I would’ve done the same, but Calliope, who’d stayed behind in the throne room, softly tapped me on the shoulder.

“Want to help me rig the garlands with sprinklers?” I asked.

“Thalia,” said Calliope, “are you trying to get suspended from the performance?”

“Okay, fine, I’ll make them sprinkle glitter instead of snow,” I said.

“I mean it,” said Calliope. “Those costume changes you suggested-“

“Neon is the new green,” I said.

“That number you suggested where we sing like rodents-“

“You’ve got to admit, that was funny,” I said.

“Are you seriously trying to get suspended from the performance?” Calliope was looking me dead straight in the eye now.

“That’s crazy,” I said. “I’m a Muse. I can’t not perform. It’s in my blood. Why would I want to miss out on our biggest show of the year?”

“None of us feel like performing all the time,” said Calliope. “But we do it anyway because it’s our purpose. We put our personal feelings aside for the greater good.”

“If the greater good is entertainment,” I reasoned, “the lovely song I worked so hard on is the greatest good of all, and the rest of you should put your personal feelings aside in favor of it.”

“It’s been a hard year,” said Calliope. “I understand that. Apollo understands that. But we have a job to do, and frankly, you need to suck it up for the next thirty-six hours and do it.”

“When have I not?” I said. “I do my job every damn Cronia, just like every other damn feast anyone in the Pantheon throws.”

“It’s a very important job, you know,” Calliope said, likely in an attempt to be helpful and encouraging.

“I do know,” I said. “I’m the distraction. I keep an eye on the Twelve, especially the Royal Family, and when it looks like something’s about to go down, I show them something shiny and prevent all Tartarus from breaking loose. Well, figuratively. Making sure all Tartarus doesn’t actually break loose is more Hades and Persephone’s thing.”

“Then you realize that it’s impossible for you to get yourself suspended from Cronia,” said Calliope. “And if you take that as a challenge, I will tell Mom.”

And I’ll tell her you’re being a micromanaging bitch, I thought. But I said, “Stop with the crazy talk. I’m not trying to get suspended. I’ll be there, I’ll do the rodeo clown gig, and Cronia will be the same as ever.”

“Good.”

mask.stock

That night I went to bed in a bad mood. I was not looking forward to tomorrow. All I could think about was last Cronia. When Zeus had met Callisto. When Artemis and Athena were still trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they were just friends. When Aglaea and Hephaestus were thinking up names for the baby that was now a perky preadolescent. When Adonis was still the unknown Prince of Hades, one of many random topics of idle gossip and speculation. When none of us had any idea that he, Aphrodite, and probably Amphitrite were incarnations of the Furies, three monsters the Titans had created in Tartarus to have their vengeance on the Olympians. When Zeus hadn’t yet been so astronomically stupid as to declare himself Leader of the Fates before all and sundry. When I hadn’t known the full extent to which Zeus and Hera had tormented Apollo and Artemis throughout their childhood.

When Apollo hadn’t loved Adonis.

I took a very strong sleeping potion, curled up in fetal position, and closed my eyes, not caring whether I slept through the whole damned holiday.

mask.stock

But apparently the sleeping potion wasn’t as strong as I thought. A loud, clear chime from the triangle I’d lent Terpsichore roused me. I forced my eyes open. When I beheld the sight before me, I determined never to touch that particular potion again. Floating beside my bed was a specter of Adonis.

“Hello, Thalia,” he said in a voice as translucent and grey as his softly glowing body. His still sickeningly beautiful body, which was clothed only in a loincloth and wrapped all over in steel chains.

“Hello, apparition,” I said. “If my subconscious is giving me a night of revenge, let’s get going already. Lose the chains. It’ll be more fun if you have a head start.”

“Revenge?” Adonis laughed. “You let me die, and you think you deserve revenge?”

“This dream sucks,” I said, lightly slapping my cheeks in an attempt to wake myself up.

“What makes you think it’s a dream?” said Adonis.

“If you were real, why would you come to me?” I said. “You and I didn’t really interact that much when you were alive. If your parents gave you a day pass – or a night pass, or whatever – I can think of plenty of people you’d rather spend it with. Like the idiot a few doors down, or the mother of your unborn daughter. Oh, yeah, did you know the baby’s a girl?”

“I did, actually,” he said. “Aphrodite visits my corpse. She tells me things and I hear her.”

“I guess you drank the potion I gave you and got your memory back,” I said, deciding to play along since waking myself up wasn’t going to happen. “Do your parents know?”

“Mom suspects,” said Adonis. “I haven’t told her, though. I don’t want to get Mnemosyne in trouble.”

“There’s no such thing as getting Mnemosyne in trouble,” I said. “And by the way, you just confirmed that this is a dream. I was invisible when I gave you the Lethe antidote. There’s no way you’d know or have any reason to suspect that it was me. And there’s definitely no way you’d know that I ‘let you die.’ You never knew about my supposed ability to influence the Fates.”

“Being in love with someone gives you an odd compulsion to share your most intimate secrets with them,” said Adonis.

“Yeah, but I was never in love with y-” Oh. I slammed my head down on my fluffy duvet. In a muffled voice, I said, “Holy Fates, do you mean Apollo told you?”

“I’ve never told anyone else,” he said.

I returned to an upright position. “Not even Aphrodite?” I asked.

“I never had the chance. It was the last conversation Apollo and I had before Persephone’s Doom. As for the rest, I wasn’t sure who’d given me the antidote, but I figured a memory potion must come from the Goddess of Memory. Thank you for confirming that.”

“Why did I have to take a stupid sleeping potion before the most annoying dream ever?” I groaned.

“The night is only beginning,” said Adonis. “Tonight, you will be visited by the Three Fates.”

“Of course I will,” I said. “Haven’t heard from them in a few months, so I’m sure they’re getting bored.”

“Heed their warnings,” said Adonis. “It will serve you well in the future.”

“I feel an ad hominem attack coming on,” I said.

“My time is running out,” said Adonis. “I can’t stay long in the Land of the Living.” He was already starting to fade. “If there’s anything else you want to know, ask now.”

“What’s with the chains?” I asked.

He laughed. “Let’s just say I’m enjoying all the pleasures the Elysian Fields have to offer.”

With that, the little himbo faded from sight, and I faded back into blissful unconsciousness.

mask.stock

I woke again to the whirring and clicking of a spinning wheel. I expected to open my eyes and find myself in the Fates’ tower, but I was still in my own bed in my own room. Clotho’s spinning wheel stood in the center. Clotho sat at the spinning wheel. Rather than her usual height, which was twice mine, she was about the same size as Athena. The unusual scene struck me as further evidence that all of this was the sleeping potion’s influence, not a real visit from a real Fate.

“Think you can spin an extra blanket?” I asked.

Clotho rose from the wheel, came to my bed, and threw the covers off. “Come,” she said. “We have much to see before my sisters visit.” She grabbed my wrist before I could say a word, and we flew out the window. Not floated, flew.

Our flight took us to Olympus. Our vantage point gave me a great view of the plateau balancing on the mountain peak, hidden from mortal sight. I could see the pastures, the stables, and in the middle of the plateau, the ascending rings of the palace that led up to the throne room at the center.

“See, now I know this is only a dream,” I said, “because if it were real, we would’ve just teleported.”

“Teleportation takes you through space,” said Clotho. “Tonight we travel through time to a Cronia long past.”

“We’ve done that before, too,” I said as we began our descent to the ring with the banquet hall. “You shoved me into a tapestry, remember? Well, actually, Atropos shoved me, but same dif.”

There was a blink’s worth of darkness. Then Clotho and I were in the Olympian palace’s ballroom opposite the stage, whereupon I saw all eight of my sisters and a copy of myself singing the grand finale number of our traditional Cronia performance.

“How far in the past are we?” I asked Clotho at normal volume. No one took notice of us, which confirmed my guess that, as in my first fated flashback, no one could see or hear us. “This could be any Cronia before Apollo was our governor. We’ve given the same performance every year since we first came to the surface.”

“But you’ve not had the same audience,” said Clotho. “Look.”

She pointed to a row of chairs just down from us. The Twelve always take the back row at Cronia in the spirit of the holiday, when servants rule and masters serve. Though at the moment, there were only Seven. Zeus sat at one end, Hera sat at the other, and between them were Demeter, Hestia, Ares, and in the very middle, a pair of blond adolescent twins.

“Awww! I forgot how cute Baby Apollo and Artemis were,” I said.

“They were hardly babies,” said Clotho. “They’re over a year older than you and your sisters.”

“Yeah, but look at them,” I said. “Physically, they’re younger than Eros and Psyche. Mentally, too, if memory serves.”

I walked down the row and looked around while my sisters and Past Me performed our number. Artemis, flanked by Hestia, looked absolutely miserable in mandatory holiday finery. This was after she’d taken her vow, so she was wearing a boy’s chiton. But this green satin chiton with its gold braid was obviously one of Apollo’s, not the plain muted ones she wore hunting. Her hair was in an elaborate updo, and she was wearing makeup, both things I knew she hated. Her eyes kept intermittently darting at the exits. Her hand made an occasional reflexive reach for the quiver that wasn’t there.

Apollo was leaning as close to Artemis as he could while still remaining in his own seat. He was flanked by Ares. As Artemis had glammed up her usual look, Apollo had obviously tried to tone his down. His silk chiton was plain black. His eyes were devoid of guyliner. His long, wavy hair was slicked back and tucked into a knot at the nape of his neck, which looked about as macho as it sounds. He seemed as uncomfortable and trapped as his sister. But unlike her, he never took his eyes off the stage. The music, the costumes, the sets, the whole spectacle had him in its thrall.

So much so that I doubted he’d noticed Persephone in the row in front of him. It would be several more years before he’d develop a crush on her. Like me and my sisters, Persephone had already reached her ultimate age, but she was even less recognizable than the Baby Wonder Twins. Her hair framed her face in strawberry blonde waves. Her gown was a watercolor tribute to fall foliage – reds, oranges, golds, browns. A bright red poinsettia perched over one ear. She was Demeter’s perfect flower child.

Down the row from her were Hebe, Ilithyia, and Eris, the Daughters of Zeus and Hera. They looked the same as they always did. Including Hebe and Ilithyia looking royally pissed off at not being shown the same honor as Ares and their bastard twin half-siblings. And Eris looking generally deranged.

 The show came to an end. The Muses got a standing ovation during our final bows.

“Now,” called Calliope, “let the feast begin!”

Hestia waved a hand and turned up the lights. She waved the other, and all the chairs skittered to the sides of the room. Demeter clapped her hands. A table appeared near us along the entire back wall, fully laden with a bountiful feast. I remembered that feast. I remembered smelling that glorious, succulent feast and pushing toward the back ahead of my sisters, who were being gracious and polite and mingling with all the gods and goddesses on the dance floor who were just dying to meet Mnemosyne’s daughters.

For the moment, I couldn’t see Past Me or any of my sisters over everyone’s heads. Apollo and Artemis, juvenile though they were, had already surpassed me in height. Most of the goddesses were about as tall as them. Zeus and Ares were taller. And huger.

As soon as the chairs were gone, Hera’s daughters turned around in unison, except for Eris, who turned at just the right moment to make the lack of unison as visually jarring as possible. Demeter took hold of Persephone’s arm. Persephone slid as close to the table as possible, inadvertently boxing the twins in.

“Daddy, can I get you a drink?” Hebe offered Zeus.

“I’ll take a beer,” said Ares. “Why don’t you get Fruitcake here a pink spritzer or something?” He aimed a punch at Apollo’s shoulder. Apollo dodged him, but bumped into Ilithyia, who kept him and Artemis boxed in. Persephone was totally withdrawn and unaware of her surroundings.

Zeus squeezed Hebe and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Not tonight, princess. It’s Cronia! Tonight I serve you. What would you ask of me?”

“A hula hoop,” said Eris.

“I couldn’t ask for a thing,” Hebe said over Eris, hanging on Zeus’ arm. “What about you, Lithi?”

“I’m the daughter of the King and Queen of the Gods,” Ilithyia gushed. “What more could I possibly ask for?”

“That’s Artemis’ job,” Hebe and Ilithyia said together.

“A hula hoop,” said Eris, wedging her words into a break as Hebe and Ilithyia laughed together, and Hera joined their laughter.

Ilithyia said to Artemis, “Why don’t you sit on Daddy’s lap and tell him what you want for Cronia. If there’s anything left to ask for.”

“A hula hoop,” said Eris.

“A cock?” Hebe said, talking over Eris again.

“Nah, that’s what her brother wants,” said Ares.

“I do not!” said Apollo. It was a very unfortunate moment for his voice to crack.

“I still want my hula hoop,” said Eris.

“‘Scuse me, coming through, hey, Persephone! Want to get me a plate?”

Persephone came to life as Past Me pushed through the royal bottleneck. “Finally!” she said. “We have to wait to eat until some lesser god goes through the line. Stupid Cronia.”

“That’s me,” Past Me laughed. “The Lesser of the Nine Evils. And aren’t the greaters supposed to be serving the lessers today? You! Blond One and Blonde Two. You get me a plate,” she said to Apollo, “and you get me a very large goblet,” she said to Artemis.

Past Me dragged her willing victims to the other end of the buffet line. Present Me and Clotho followed.

“Thanks,” Artemis said once we were well out of the Royal Family’s earshot. It was a cautious, terse grunt.

“For making you wait on me?” Past Me laughed.

“Yeah,” Artemis said. “Is this enough?” she asked in regard to the wine level in my goblet.

“Keep pouring, sweetie,” said Past Me.

“This performance was an interesting contrast to your debut,” said Baby Apollo as he artfully arranged the food on my plate. “More stately, less theatrical. I think you could have taken it further in that direction. Calliope’s recitation of the Battle of the Titans shouldn’t have had minimal effects. It should have had no effects at all. It would’ve made a greater impact with her reciting in the spotlight in the center of a dark stage, the only music the voices of the chorus in the shadows behind her. And remind me, what’s your specialty?”

“Comedy,” said Past Me, doing an admirable job of keeping a poker face.

“Right, I remember now,” he said, “from the debut. That makes more sense.”

“Shut up,” Artemis whispered to him.

“Why do you say that?” asked Past Me, thoroughly amused, since the poor naïve ingénue I once was couldn’t possibly know what a monster was being created here.

“During the dance,” said Apollo, “were you trying to be funny?”

Past Me couldn’t hold back at least a chuckle any longer. “You get beat up a lot, kiddo?”

“Don’t call me ‘kiddo.’ My name is Apollo,” he said. He drew himself to his full height and puffed out his scrawny chest as he presented my plate. “I’m one of the Seven. The God of Archery, of Science, of Healing.”

“Yes, you two were introduced at our debut,” Past Me reminded him. I remembered being glad of the confirmation. I hadn’t been completely sure they were the same kids since they should’ve aged between the two meetings. I had yet to learn that they were actually older than me, my sisters, and Persephone. “You’re Artemis,” Past Me said to his sister, “and you’re Leto’s children, right?”

“Yes,” said Artemis.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, My Lord Apollo,” Past Me said with a cheerfully sarcastic curtsey, “why don’t you come by the Museum sometime and see how the sausage gets made?”

“It’s all my fault,” I deadpanned. “You’ve brought me here to change the past. To kill the monster before it’s born. Right?” Clotho remained silent.

“What does sausage have to do with anything?” Apollo bristled.

“It’s just an expression,” Past Me laughed. “Observe the process. The dirty details. The blood, sweat, and tears that go into producing a major theatrical production.”

“Really?” And there was Baby Apollo’s sun smile, which made his face look even more babyish.

“Sure,” said Past Me.

“STFU, crazy woman,” I said.

Persephone, having finally broken away from Demeter, hurried alongside us as we reached the end of the line. “So, Thalia,” she said, “let me pull out a chair for you.” She did, in a nice cozy corner away from the crowd. Past Me sat down. Apollo held my plate on one side and Artemis held my goblet on the other.

Persephone took another seat for herself. “So, you guys are getting settled in okay?” she said.

“Yep,” I said. “You should come visit us at the Museum sometime. We have a spring there now. We kind of made it when we popped up to the surface.”

“The spring comes from Lake Mnemosyne?” said Persephone. Past Me nodded. “Well, how about that,” Persephone said with a nonchalant laugh. “Your own little back door straight to Hades. Not like you’ll be going back a lot, right? I mean, who wants to see Hades again?”

“Surely not you,” I said.

“Mom does want us to try to visit every so often,” Past Me said.

“Guess that means you’ll have to present yourself to His Royal Majesty, the King of Dark Black Darkness,” said Persephone.

“I already know,” I said. “It was totes obvious when you met him.”

“Probably,” Past Me nodded.

“How long of a reprieve do you get?” Persephone asked.

“We all know,” I said.

“I think Calliope’s going after the New Year,” Past Me said.

“Hey, now that you mention it,” said Persephone. “I haven’t said hi to Calliope yet. If Mom comes looking for me, tell her I found an orgy in a tattoo shop full of centaurs who are all drinking drugs and smoking roofies.”

“Will do,” said Past Me .

“Must really suck, having your mom looking out for you like that,” said Artemis.

“Say what, now?” said Persephone. “You want to play with the big girls?”

“Where are they?” said Artemis.

Persephone stared at Artemis for a couple of seconds. Then she laughed. That dark, twisted laugh that belonged to the fated Queen of the Underworld. “We should hang out more,” she said.

“Many new threads were spun that day,” said Clotho as we watched Persephone leave to give Calliope a letter for Hades.

“I’m sure many new threads are spun at every Cronia,” I said. “It’s the longest night of the year and there’s always a river of wine.”

“You and Apollo each found one of your many callings,” said Clotho.

“I was just trying to get to the buffet table,” I said.

“You saw two vulnerable young people being tormented, and you created a distraction to help them escape,” said Clotho.

“And then one of them grew up to become my chief tormenter.” I said with a dramatic proud sob and wiped away a fake tear. “Have you ever heard such beautiful poetic irony?”

“You were escaping, too, were you not?” said Clotho.

“Yeah,” I acknowledged. “My sisters were trying to cheer me up, which I hate. I’d been trying to ask Hephaestus out for awhile, and when I invited him to the performance, he turned me down but wouldn’t say why. How was I supposed to know it was because he was Hera’s secret son that nobody talked about?”

“By the next Cronia, they were talking about him again,” said Clotho.

“Yeah,” I laughed. “When she gets home,” I pointed to Past Me, “she’s going to find a package on her doorstep. It’s going to have the world’s most awesome pair of earrings and the world’s guiltiest apology letter. She’s going to fall for it, try again, and then she’ll have her first official boyfriend. And sometime in the next year, his mother is going to ask where she got those earrings. It was at the Spring Equinox or the Summer Solstice or something.”

“Hera learned that Hephaestus’ skills as a smith and an engineer had developed according to plan,” said Clotho. “She welcomed him into her household, and the Seven became the Eight.”

“Zeus couldn’t let her get ahead,” I said, “so the next Cronia, he unveiled his perfect creation, Athena. Happy Cronia to Artemis,” I laughed.

“Many threads,” Clotho nodded. “Come. I must have you home before my sister’s visit.”

mask.stock

That was the last thing I remember before waking up in my bed again. Rather, being awakened by a poke from Lachesis’ measuring rod. Lachesis, like Clotho before her, was a natural height that was still a little taller than me.

“What’s next?” I asked her. “Can we see the Cronia that Calliope brought Oegrus home for the first time? Or how about Orpheus’ first Cronia? He wasn’t even walking yet. So cute! Oh, oh, oh! The Cronia when I taught Aglaea the Dance of the Felled Trees!”

“Cronia Past was Clotho’s role,” said Lachesis. She threw back my curtain and let in a piercing beam of sunlight. “The dawn breaks. I have come to show you Cronia in the present.”

“And now I’m back to being 100% certain this is just a dream,” I said. “If the actual Fates wanted me to see this Cronia for real, they could’ve just let me, you know, wake up for real and experience it.”

“Come,” said Lachesis. She grabbed my hand. It felt awfully real.

In a flash, we were at my hollow. Where we were preceded by…me. And Pegasus.

“So, apparently I did get myself suspended from the performance since I’m not at our final rehearsal, but if this is the present, why are there two of me?” I asked Lachesis.

“Are you questioning Fate?” she replied.

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“Do not.”

I shrugged, leaned against a tree, and settled in to observe Other Me. She was singing my beautiful Cronia song to herself as she decorated the gazebo with waves of her hands, snaps of her fingers, and clicks of her heels. There were evergreen boughs and garlands, red and white winter berries, and jewels and streamers in every color of the rainbow plus gold, silver, and pink. Other Me snapped her fingers, and suddenly Pegasus was sporting a pair of deer’s antlers and a red clown’s nose. “That was random,” I laughed.

Other Me, satisfied with her labor, fell backwards onto a soft golden cushion. She clapped. That scroll I’d been trying to finish reading appeared in her hands.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be getting out of this,” I said. “I look like I’m having an awesome day. If you’re going to tell me I look like I’m having fun but I’m really lonely, I don’t buy it. I know myself, and I know I’d be having a blast if I were doing what she’s doing.”

“You are,” said Lachesis. She held out her rod and showed me the measure of my happiness. It was pretty high.

“Sooo…?”

“Now I will show you how the rest of the Pantheon is faring in your absence.”

“Oh, boy.”

Lachesis took my hand and teleported me away. We appeared in the former throne room/current sitting room of the old Museum on Helicon. A cozy fire pit burned in the center of the floor. Artemis and Athena were snuggling on a chaise. Artemis wore a faded hunting chiton and had her hair carelessly twisted up out of the way. Athena was in a comfortable-looking nightgown and robe. Her hair was unhelmed, unbound, and uncombed. There was no armor or weapon to be seen.

“I wish we didn’t have to go to the feast tonight,” said Athena.

“You love parties,” said Artemis as she fingered the ends of Athena’s hair.

“I do, but this is our first Cronia together,” said Athena.

“We’ve spent every Cronia together since you came into being,” Artemis laughed.

“You know what I mean,” Athena laughed with her. “This is the first year that you’re all mine and everyone knows it.”

“Everyone does know it,” said Artemis, nestling her head into Athena’s shoulder. “No one will be stupid enough to make a play for Athena’s lover.”

“What if one of your hunters orders you to dance?” said Athena, more teasing than truly jealous.

“I told them yesterday that every dance is yours,” said Artemis. “At least this year. We’re practically still on our honeymoon.”

“Does that mean you’re actually going to dance?” Athena laughed.

“One dance,” said Artemis.

“Oh, you really meant it?” Athena said, serious now, and genuinely incredulous.

“Yes,” said Artemis. “One dance. You know how I feel about people looking at me, but today I want them to see me, being with you. You know?”

Athena caught Artemis in a passionate kiss, which Artemis wholeheartedly returned. “Okay, I guess we’re through here,” I laughed.

“Indeed,” said Lachesis.

She teleported us to our next destination: Hephaestus and Aglaea’s quarters on Olympus. They were in their sitting room with Euphrosyne, who was now about the size of an ten-year-old human. Aglaea sat on the ground with Euphrosyne, while Hephaestus sat in a comfortable chair that was tall enough for him to get in and out of with relative ease. His cane leaned against its sturdy arm.

“Can I open my presents now?” asked Euphrosyne.

“The ones from us,” said Hephaestus. He raised his upturned palm. One of the bedroom doors opened, and a small island of presents came floating in. Man, the perks of being the adored only daughter of the God of Making Stuff.

“You can wait to open the ones from Eros and Psyche when they come over later,” said Aglaea.

“Why can’t they come over now?” asked Euphrosyne. Knowing her, I could see that she was less concerned with opening her presents than with seeing her big brother.

“They’re spending the morning with Eros’ mom, remember?” said Aglaea. The island of presents came to a gentle landing next to Euphrosyne.

“Why can’t they all come over?” asked Euphrosyne.

“Cronia’s for family,” said Hephaestus.

“But they are family,” said Euphrosyne. Aglaea and Hephaestus exchanged looks over their little girl’s head, silently asking each other for some help.

“Well, see,” Hephaestus attempted, “Aphrodite used to be family, but we got a divorce and I married your mom, so now she’s not.”

“She’s still Eros’ mom,” said Euphrosyne.

“Yes, she is,” said Aglaea. “That’s why he and Psyche are spending part of the day with her.”

“And then they’ll come over here and she’ll be alone until the feast tonight,” said Euphrosyne.

“Trust me, she won’t be,” Hephaestus snorted. “She…has a lot of…friends.”

“No she doesn’t,” said Euphrosyne. “Mom’s her only friend. She says so all the time.”

“I’m her only girl friend,” said Algaea. “She has lots of other friends who aren’t girls. Ares, Hermes, Dionysus, lots and lots of satyrs.”

“I’m five months old. I know those guys aren’t her friends,” said Euphrosyne. “And didn’t Ares murder her True Love?”

“Well, yeah, they haven’t been as friendly since then,” said Aglaea.

“She’s going to be alone,” Euphrosyne repeated, looking more distressed by second. “You guys don’t get it because you like being alone. For people like her, it’s… No one should be sad on Cronia.”

Aglaea hugged Euphrosyne tightly. “Honey, listen; Aphrodite is very good at getting what she wants. It’s one of her talents. I can guarantee she’s going to do whatever it takes to give herself a happy holiday. So we don’t need to worry about her, okay?”

“I guess you’re right,” Euphrosyne conceded.

“You ready to open your presents now?” Aglaea offered.

“Sure!” The Goddess of Mirth and Merriment was happy again, and order was restored to the universe.

Which, of course, made it a perfect time for a knock at the door. Aglaea got up to open it while Euphrosyne opened her first gift, a fully operational child-sized bow and quiver. “Thank you,” she smiled. It was the kind of thanks a polite, empathetic child gives when she knows someone put a lot of thought and effort into a very nice present that isn’t quite what she wanted.

Aglaea opened the door. “Bestie!” cried Aphrodite as she crushed Aglaea with a bear hug while still hanging onto a pink velour bag. Behind Aphrodite, Psyche stifled a laugh, and Eros mouthed Sorry.

“Eros and Psyche were just at my place, and I was going to send a present with them for little Phrossie, and then I thought, It’s Cronia! I can’t ask my son to work for me today!” Aphrodite laughed. She let go of Aglaea, ran to Gift Island, and sat down next to Euphrosyne. “You’re getting so big,” she sighed happily. “You’ll be all grown up by next Cronia. But you and Eros will have a new little sister by then.”

“Your baby won’t be-” Hephaestus started.

“Here, I brought you a present,” said Aphrodite. “Your mom said you didn’t have this yet.” Obviously Aglaea, who had made her way around to her husband’s side, had no memory of consulting with Aphrodite on the subject.

Gracefully, Euphrosyne took the pink package from Aphrodite. She slipped off the wrapping. Her face lit up like a moonstone in Hades. “Oh my goddess, it’s makeup!” she squealed. “It’s just what I wanted! Look, Mom, there are like a hundred different eye colors! And look at all the lip glosses! Oh, and is this nail polish? Mom, we can all do mani-pedis together! This is like the only other thing I wanted for a perfect Cronia,” she said to Aphrodite. “I wanted you and I wanted makeup, and I didn’t think I was going to get either one because Mom said I’m too young to wear makeup and Dad said you weren’t family, but you came anyway! It must’ve been Fate!”

Euphrosyne’s parents exchanged bemused, resigned smiles. Hephaestus squeezed Aglaea’s hand and deadpanned, “Fates bless us, every one.”

“Cute vignette,” I said, as Aglaea peeked inside a package from Aphrodite and quickly tossed it into the open bedroom, “but I wouldn’t have been here for it anyway.”

“I only show you what you need to see,” said Lachesis. She took my hand. “And there is still more before my time ends.”

She teleported us away. It was the night of the feast now. We were, again, at the back of the ballroom facing the stage. My sisters were on stage with Apollo performing the finale. I wasn’t.

The show ended, the performers took their final bows, and the ballroom was made ready for the dancing and feasting, same as always. Everyone started mingling. Athena and Artemis shared one dance. It was simple, sweet, and romantic, nothing like the passionate whirlwind I’d sneaked a peek at on the Equinox. To Artemis’ relief, no one paid them a great deal of attention. The Virgin Goddesses’ romance was already old news.

Aphrodite spent most of the evening loudly refusing wine and telling all and sundry why. She didn’t seem to favor any one partner or companion, but she and Ares stayed clear of each other.

Aglaea and Hephaestus stayed quietly in a corner while Euphrosyne flitted around with Eros and Psyche. She couldn’t fly, of course, but she bounced around enough that she might as well have. You could almost see the bubble trail of mirth that followed her wherever she went.

I noticed Calliope approaching Apollo, who was standing off to the side and looking pretty bored. I followed.

“Good performance,” Calliope smiled.

“The harmonies were a little off in the eighth number, but overall I was happy with it,” said Apollo. “Can I get you anything?”

“Bitch never asks if he can get me anything,” I grumbled.

“No, thank you,” Calliope said. “I’ve already eaten, and I don’t like to drink at parties. Anymore.”

“I understand,” said Apollo.

“Holidays are funny things for bringing up memories, aren’t they?” said Calliope. “Things you’ve done. People you’ve loved. People you miss.”

 “It’s her own fault she isn’t here,” said Apollo. “You know as well as I do that she got herself suspended on purpose.”

 Calliope rested a gentle hand on Apollo’s shoulder. It was hard to say whether the gesture was more sisterly or motherly. “Out of all the people you could be missing, she’s the first to come to mind,” she said. “Think that means anything?”

 “It means I’m the one who’d be bugging him if I were there,” I said.

“It means she’s the one who’d be pestering me if she were here,” said Apollo.

“Of course,” Calliope said, with that super annoying look and tone that meant she was thinking way more than what she was saying. “Care to dance?”

“Why not?” Apollo agreed.

“Do you have your answer now?” asked Lachesis.

“What answer?” I shrugged. “Calliope’s the one who asked the question. Are we done here? I’m getting bored. The whole point of trying to get out of the feast was to, you know, get out of it.”

“Very well, then,” said Lachesis. “I’ll return you to your dreamless slumber, and when my sister comes for you, she will show you what will come to pass if you do not fulfill your role as always on this Cronia.”

mask.stock

The next thing I remember, I was back in bed. A chill in the room woke me. I sat up to reach for an extra blanket. There was Atropos at her full height, her head nearly grazing my ceiling, her shears gleaming in the candlelight. Her robe, instead of its usual white, was as black and cold as the winter’s night sky.

“Let’s get this over with,” I said. Atropos wordlessly pointed to the door. I went through. But the door didn’t lead to the hallway. When I crossed the threshold, I was once again in the ballroom of the Olympian palace, with Atropos beside me. All eight of my sisters were on stage. Once again, I wasn’t. Instead of their usual costumes, my sisters wore identical stately golden gowns with gleaming headdresses that looked like solar rays.

I checked the back row. Athena was on the end closest to us. She was wearing a white gown and a full suit of silver armor over it. She wore her sword and aegis, and her shield rested against her chair. A dazzling golden crown was on her head. Next to her was Artemis, dressed all in black, her head nearly shaved, and her bow and quiver on her back. Then Hermes and Dionysus, both of whom looked pretty much the same as ever. Then Hephaestus, wearing a dark but rich-looking chiton, gold armbands, and gold rings on every finger. He was more ostentatious and important-looking than I’d ever seen, but his countenance was empty. It might as well have been his corpse propped up in that chair.

And at the end of the row was Apollo. His golden chiton matched my sisters’ costumes. Instead of his usual laurel wreath, he wore a crown made of steel laurel branches. Thick kohl surrounded his stern grey eyes. An emblem on his ring told me he was still the Sun God, but his light was long gone.

The stage went as dark as the audience. Calliope took center stage, and a small beam of light shone on her.

“One hundred years,” said Calliope. “One hundred years ago, it happened. The day we all had awaited since Apollo, King of the Gods, first slew the Cyclops. Since Athena, Queen of the Gods, first claimed Zeus’ most favored daughter as her lover. One hundred years ago, on the Winter Solstice, the anniversary of Zeus’ triumph over Cronus, Zeus used the last of his lightning bolts.

“Who can tell how the fight began? How does anything begin when the great and powerful are gathered under one roof and told to forget their quarrels and rivalries and tensions for one night? But one thing is certain: in times past, such fights were kept at bay by our sister, Thalia, Muse of Comedy, Shepherdess of the Gods, Fool of the Olympian Court. One hundred years ago, she did not attend the feast of Cronia.”

“So I guess Lachesis and I didn’t stick around for the end of the feast,” I said. Atropos said nothing.

“The fight was long and arduous,” Calliope’s monologue continued. “But Athena’s forces prevailed. Aphrodite revealed herself as leader of the Three Furies. She called forth the others, and revolution began in their kingdoms as well. The Children of the Titans were defeated. Zeus. Poseidon. Hades. Hera. Demeter. Hestia. Helios. Selene. Mnemosyne. All remain bound in a celestial prison to this day.”

“What in…are you freakin’ kidding me?” I said. But it was exactly what I’d been afraid of. The Furies had been sent to punish the Children of the Titans. It was the reason Persephone wouldn’t let Adonis keep his memories in the first place.

“To this day, Athena rules Olympus alongside Apollo, her husband,” said Calliope.

I tried to verbalize my shock and awe, but only incoherent vowels came out. Athena in a marriage of convenience? Artemis as a concubine? Actually, Athena was the goddess of strategy, and Artemis had no use for the institution of marriage, so it wasn’t completely unbelievable.

“To this day, Triton rules the Ocean Realm in place of his father, Poseidon. His mother Amphitrite guards his realm as Aphrodite guards ours, and as Adonis guards the Underworld,” said Calliope.

“That does need to happen,” I acknowledged. “Triton does all the work anyway.”

“To this day, Persephone rules the Underworld alone. She has her son, but she mourns her husband, and she mourns her mother.

“Her mourning fills the earth. Quakes. Volcanoes. Clouds of ash. Fields of stone. The world soon became barren. We immortals are now all that remain.”

“No!” I screamed. “That’s not possible! If there are no more humans, what in Tartarus are we even gods of?”

“There would now be no use for us Muses, had we not had the favor of our Lord Apollo,” Calliope bowed. “We, his Nine Concubines, are eternally grateful to spend eternity in his service. Gladly do we spend our days following his every command. Except our sister Thalia, who, in memory of her role in our defeat of the Children of the Titans, is granted a day of rest every Cronia to do as she pleases.”

I couldn’t watch this anymore. I ran out the door and down the stairs. As I ran past each level of the descending circles, I blinked, shook my head, pinched myself, did everything I could think of to wake myself up. None of it worked.

I made it to the final ring and out the palace gate. The cold wind tore at me and blew soot in my lungs. Bursts of volcanic fire scattered as far as I could see illuminated the nightmare world below Olympus. No more green. No more movement. No more life.

“In light of all this, it’s kind of ironic that our name means Flourishing Blossom, isn’t it? Oh, and you missed the part about how Hera took away Aglaea and Psyche’s immortality and they both died horrible deaths in the final battle. Hephaestus and Eros are cleaning up with their weapon supply monopoly, though. All three realms have a mutually assured destruction thing going on.”

I turned toward my own voice. There stood a woman clad and cloaked in grey, holding my comedic mask to her face. Its laughing façade had never looked so cruel. She took the mask down and revealed my face, but with no makeup, no flowers, no jewels, and no laughter.

“Please tell me this isn’t real,” I said. “Tell me this isn’t what’s going to happen. Tell me I can change this.”

“Nope,” she said. “Turns out we can’t change Fate after all. The Weird Sisters have just been screwing with us because they hate us or they’re bored or something.”

“I don’t believe you!” I shouted, struggling to be heard over the wind even though Dark Thalia’s voice was perfectly clear.

“Of course you believe me,” she said. “I’m you. The only words I have are the ones you give me.”

“Well, they’re still wrong! How about what Lachesis showed us? Artemis and Athena? They’d loved each other for almost a thousand years and never did anything about it until we told the Fates to get on that. They’d still be pretending to be ‘best friends’ and fooling no one but themselves. And it would’ve eaten away at them a little more with every passing decade until Athena was as devoid of joy and empathy as Hera, and Artemis…she would probably have gone actually insane at some point. And there might not have been a Goddess of Psychology to pull her out of it.”

Dark Thalia looked on with a prideful, mocking smirk that showed she didn’t believe a word I was saying. But, was it my imagination, or had she shrunken a few inches?

“And what about Hephaestus and Aphrodite?” I went on. “They would’ve been stuck in that Tartarus of a marriage forever if it weren’t for us. Sure, Aphrodite’s blessing might’ve made him still meet Aglaea and fall in love with her anyway, but do you think he would’ve done anything about it if it weren’t for me? No, he would’ve stayed a martyr to marriage and made both himself and Aphrodite even more miserable than ever.”

“Yay, the Goddess of Happy Endings caused the Pantheon’s first divorce!” Dark Thalia taunted. But she was still getting smaller. She was about Aphrodite’s height now.

“Yes, I did!” I yelled back. “That divorce was all me, and it was the best thing that could’ve happened to both of them! Hephaestus is with Aglaea now, and he has the family he always wanted. And Aphrodite…” I faltered a little, and Dark Thalia gained another couple inches.

“Aphrodite what?” she mocked. “Say it. Go on. Say it.”

I found my voice again. “Aphrodite and Adonis belong together,” I said. “Even without all this drama about the Furies and the Titans and whatever. They were so right for each other. I mean, the kid was a total screw-up, but he was her perfect total screw-up. Sometimes I do wish he’d stayed alive, just for her.”

“But then he’d be alive for Apollo, too,” Dark Thalia laughed. “Apollo and Adonis, sittin’ in a tree, f-u-c-“

“SHUT! UP!” I shouted. “Apollo was plenty mad when he found out Adonis had cheated on him. If Adonis had lived, they’d have broken up and that’d be the end of it. But, no, he had to go and get himself killed, which is a damn good way to give everyone selective memory about you.”

“And that’s the real reason you want to get out of the feast,” said Dark Thalia. “You know people miss their absent loved ones around holidays more than ever, and you can’t deal with the fact that Apollo is missing Adonis because he did love him.”

“Guess what, bitch? I haven’t gotten out of it. No matter how hard I’ve tried, Apollo won’t suspend me from the performance. Did you ever think maybe it’s because he’d miss me if I weren’t there? Maybe he doesn’t want me the same way he wanted Adonis. I don’t even know if I want him to. But he does want me around. If he didn’t, there are a million ways he could’ve gotten rid of me a long time ago. And all he does is invent more reasons to spend more time with me.”

Dark Thalia was now about the same height as Euphrosyne.

“But that isn’t even the whole reason I wanted to get out of the feast,” I kept going. “I’m just freakin’ tired of feeling like the whole damned future of the whole damned Pantheon rests on my goodwill. And you know what? It doesn’t. This future is the biggest load of crap I’ve seen outside the Augean Stables. Athena worked too hard to be with Artemis to marry anyone else. I don’t know if it even makes sense for Apollo to have that kind of rank in the new regime anyway, and if he did, he and Athena could just make a freakin’ law that says co-monarchs don’t have to have a pseudosexual contract. In any case, he would never make us his concubines-slash-slaves. Don’t you remember how freaked out he was when those rumors started after he moved us to Parnassus? And, yeah, he can be a bit of a slave driver, and we give him a hard time about it, but when we seriously call him out, he listens.”

Dark Thalia kept shrinking and shrinking until she was about eye level with my ankle.

“One more thing,” I said. “You know how I know this future can’t be real? Because if anyone took Hades away from Persephone, she wouldn’t turn the earth into a burnt-out wasteland. There would be no earth left. There would be a big black hole in the universe where it used to be.”

Dark Thalia was now the approximate size of a cockroach.

“You know what happens to people who try to take Hades away from Persephone?” I raised my foot high over Dark Thalia’s nearly invisible head. The motion caught me off balance. I slipped and felt myself falling backwards. I tumbled to the ground.

And woke up on the floor next to my bed, tangled in my comforter.

mask.stock

I unwrapped myself and ran to the window. Judging by the sky and the shadows, the sun was beginning to set. I heard a rap at the door. I threw it open. There was my own doorway leading to my own hallway. And there in the doorway was Apollo.

“Good afternoon, my prima donna,” he said with an exaggerated bow. “Think your sleeping potion was strong enough?”

“What day is it?” I asked him, my heart still racing from the dream.

“It’s Cronia, of course,” he said, his face a mixture of annoyance and concern.

“Ah, an intelligent boy, remarkable boy,” I beamed. “Are we all still on for the performance at the royal feast?”

“Would that be the one you’ve done every single year since you left Hades?” said Apollo.

“Delightful boy,” I praised as I cupped his pretty little face in my hands.

“Thalia, seriously, are you alright?” he said as he returned my hands to my sides.

I twirled around the room and declared, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as a naiad, I am as merry as a school-girl. I am as giddy as a drunken woman.”

“I see that,” said Apollo. “Be at the ballroom in full makeup in fifteen minutes.”

“Of course,” I promised. “A merry Cronia to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!”

As Apollo closed the door behind him, I was vaguely aware of him muttering, “I really need to tweak the formula of that sleeping potion.”

mask.stock

The performance came to an end, and we took our final bows. The room was cleared for dancing and feasting. Calliope, surrounded by our sisters, was drinking in the vibrant, frivolous energy of the feast even though she wasn’t drinking any wine. I noticed Artemis take Athena’s hand for one dance, and, as in my dream, hardly anyone else did. Artemis/Athena was so five minutes ago.

I grabbed Apollo’s hand. He rolled his eyes at me. “I suppose you’re going to order me to dance?” he said.

“No, but you’ll get over it,” I said. “I’m ordering you to come with me.”

“Where?” he asked. “You know we can’t leave the -“

I put a finger to my lips. “It’s Cronia,” I reminded him. I teleported us both to our Museum on Parnassus. We arrived in our dark, empty throne room.

“Sunglobe, please?” I requested.

Apollo waved his hand and placed a glowing orb in the middle of the room near the ceiling.

“Did you forget something?” Apollo asked, confused and suspicious.

“Yes,” I said. “I forgot that the world won’t come to an end if I take some time for myself.”

“You do that every chance you get,” said Apollo.

“Not at holidays,” I said.

“Since when are holidays supposed to be restful?” he laughed.

I snapped my fingers. A red velvet picnic blanket appeared in the middle of the floor. On the blanket were two soft, fluffy, robin’s egg blue cushions on either side of a picnic basket that held a full Cronia feast for two. “Since today,” I said.

We each claimed a cushion. Apollo poured two glasses of wine. “That song you wrote – it wasn’t completely terrible,” he admitted.

“It’s going to be a classic,” I assured him. I took the glass he offered me.

“The Goddess of Happy Endings has spoken, so the Fates must obey,” he said, his sun smile making me forget for a moment that it was the longest, darkest night of the year.

I raised my glass in a toast. “Fates bless us, every one!”

mask.stock

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “A Cronia Carol

  1. Pingback: A Thalia’s Musings Christmas Carol | Amethyst Marie

  2. I meant have a merry Christmas follow-up. I thought it was still Christmas in the United States, but I can’t seem to register how time zones or logic work.

  3. I just noticed the callback to “Better to Reign in Hades.” Thalia wanted to squash Dark Thalia in homage to Persephone squashing the mint sprig, didn’t she?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s