I blinked my eyes, which were extremely out of focus for some reason. I took a few seconds to reorient myself. I was in our throne room on Parnassus, propped up in my own throne. It was the middle of the day. Bright sunlight contributed to my visual complications. Too much light for the throne room. I was aware of people crowded around me, mostly sisters, maybe Aphrodite, too.
And Apollo. The voice was his. The hands on my shoulders, holding me upright in my throne, were his. The face full of both concern and relief was his.
“What happened?” I asked. My voice was groggy. My mouth was parched. Specific questions were coming to mind, but I stopped myself from asking them because I still wasn’t sure who all was present and how much they could know.
“Do you know where you are?” I recognized Calliope’s voice.
“Parnassus,” I said.
“Do you know who you are?” asked Apollo.
For the first time in almost a thousand years, I knew exactly who I was. But now wasn’t the time, so I simply said, “I’m Thalia. Calliope, do you remember, too?”
“Shhh, take it easy,” Calliope soothed as she stroked my shoulder. “You’ve had a rough couple of days.”
“Right, she’s had a rough couple of days.” The voice confirmed Aphrodite’s presence. My memories were still hazy. I tried to think why she, of all people, was present for what seemed like a minor family emergency.
My eyes began to adjust. The ruins of the Museum came into full view. I sunk back into my charred throne as the memories came flooding back. Man. Couple of days? Try couple of years.
It was a rare day on Mount Parnassus. Apollo and all eight of my sisters were away. All of the Twelve had been summoned to Olympus on account of Persephone’s continued absence a month after the Spring Equinox. Calliope had gone to Hades on what we all knew was the same business, though officially she was just visiting Mom. The rest of my sisters had decided to spend their day off away from the Museum.
Most of us couldn’t blame Persephone for staying in the Underworld. She’d gone home early last fall after watching Ares murder her son, Adonis. Adonis’ corpse still lay preserved in Endymion’s Cave. His soul was in the Elysian Fields. I sometimes wondered if he remembered his short, tumultuous life in our realm. He’d drunk from the river Lethe like everyone else who goes to the Land of the Dead, but I’d smuggled him a vial of the water of Lake Mnemosyne, the memory-restoring antidote to Lethe’s water.
I’d also smuggled vials to Calliope and Aphrodite so they wouldn’t forget what we’d learned when we followed Adonis to Hades. That Adonis and Aphrodite were really two of three Furies, creatures the Titans had created in their captivity to take revenge on their children, the Olympians, who had imprisoned them. I hadn’t figured out exactly how that was supposed to work since both Aphrodite and Adonis were definitely lovers, not fighters. This was even more true for the goddess we assumed was the third Fury: Amphitrite, wife and consort of Poseidon, King of the Ocean Realm.
Autumn and winter had passed without Calliope or I mentioning any of this to each other. It was looking like spring would, too. I’d been tempted to go along with Calliope on her visit to Hades and see what I could find out about Adonis and his fate. But in the end, I chose not to. Adonis and his unending drama had consumed my whole summer last year, and now he was indirectly ruining my spring thanks to Demeter’s temper tantrums. I was really sick to death of thinking about his existence. So I decided to take a day to myself and spend some time with friends. I invited my goddaughter Aglaea and her daughter Euphrosyne over for a Graces’ day out.
The “Graces” thing was a joke between the three of us. See, when Aglaea was little, I’d tried my best to train her in the art of musical comedy so that she might follow in my illustrious footsteps. Alas, the kid decided to become a physician instead. But I did succeed in teaching her a few routines, including a comic dance that we titled “Dance of the Felled Trees.” Apollo had joked that we should call our duo The Graces. All these centuries later, it remained one of Aglaea’s favorite childhood memories. So as soon as Euphrosyne could walk, we revived the act and included her in it. The family had been referring to the three of us collectively as The Graces ever since.
Euphrosyne was growing up. She was in late adolescence, about the same age as her brother and sister-in-law, Eros and Psyche. I never would’ve imagined that a girl could look so much like Hephaestus, yet still so feminine and pretty. Nor would I have imagined that Hephaestus could beget the Goddess of Mirth and Merriment.
“I’m so happy you invited us!” Euphrosyne squealed as she dove onto the chaise next to me and threw her gangly arms around my neck. We’d wanted to do a picnic on the dancing lawn, but the weather was so perilously unpredictable that I’d moved the party to my quarters. “I think I’ve gotten taller since the last time you saw me. Don’t you think I’m taller? Hey, can I show you something?”
“Sure,” I said. “Hi, Aglaea,” I waved to her mom. “Have a seat.”
Aglaea joined us on the chaise, observing Euphrosyne’s exuberance in quiet amusement.
“Can I show you the thing now?” Euphrosyne asked again.
“Go ahead,” I said. Euphrosyne took my hands, closed her eyes, and scrunched her face in intense concentration.
Suddenly, everything around me looked a little bit brighter. Out my window, the grass was greener and the grey sky turned to shimmering silver. The clouds sparkled like a herd of glitter-bombed sheep. I noticed flowers and birds that I hadn’t before. The corners of my mouth spread involuntarily. In that moment, I felt nothing but pure, absolute happiness.
Euphrosyne’s concentration broke. The feeling left as quickly as it had come. But instead of feeling let down, I felt content. Satiated. Like I’d just swallowed one perfect bite of a decadent dessert far too rich to possibly take two, and I was now savoring the lingering taste left behind on my tongue.
“That’s incredible,” I said. We’d figured out a long time ago that Euphrosyne’s presence supernaturally increased people’s happiness, but a phenomenon this focused and intense was something new.
“Eros and Psyche are teaching me,” said Euphrosyne. “It was their idea. Eros wanted to see if we could invent happiness arrows, but you know I’m not into archery. So we’ve been trying it this way. I started practicing on them and Aphrodite. They’re easier since they’re empaths. I don’t have to do all the work. But I’ve been trying it on Mom and Dad, and it’s going really well. You’re the first person outside the family that I’ve tried it on.”
“Really?” I teased her. “Aphrodite’s family, but I’m not? Good to know where I stand around here.”
“Well, yeah, you’re family, too, but you’re different because you don’t live on Olympus like the rest of us so I don’t see you as often. And Aphrodite’s family to me because she’s my brother’s mom and she’s Mom’s best friend.”
There was some question as to the accuracy of Euphrosyne’s last statement. Aphrodite’s lovers are innumerable, but after her divorce, she realized for the first time that she didn’t really have any friends. So she randomly selected Aglaea, the newest goddess on Olympus, as her BFF. Aglaea also happened to be Aphrodite’s ex-husband’s fiancée and eventually his wife and the mother of his child. If Aphrodite has ever been aware of any possible conflict of interest in this friendship, she hasn’t shown it.
“How are Artemis and Athena?” Aglaea asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen them since Cronia.”
“Pretty good,” I said. “Did you hear Athena finally got Artemis to move the huntresses out of the Museum?”
“How did that happen?” Aglaea laughed.
“She said it was her house, too, so if Artemis’ subjects could live there, so could hers.”
“Oh dear,” said Aglaea
“Yeah,” I said. “She had some demigod soldiers, a few Amazons, a handful of priestesses; it was insane.”
“Which had the huntresses more distracted? The soldiers or the Amazons?” Aglaea asked.
“It was pretty much split down the middle,” I said. “After about a month of this, Artemis agreed that the only people living at the Museum would be her and Athena. She moved the huntresses back to their old camp on the riverbank, and Athena sent all her people back where they came from.” I paused, noticing a change in Aglaea’s expression. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Aglaea assured me. “Aphrodite was summoning me. She’s had false contractions six times in the last week and a half.”
“She’s got to be about ready to pop,” I said. “Are you sure you don’t need to go take care of that?”
“Say for the sake of argument these are real contractions,” said Aglaea. “She probably still has awhile before her water breaks, and possibly hours before the baby comes. All her births have been unremarkable from a medical point of view. I’m not worried.”
“Hey, is that the fountain Dad just put in?” Euphrosyne asked as she looked out my window.
“Yeah, sometime you should come over and see it in the sunlight,” I said. It wasn’t raining, but the sky was getting blacker by the second, and there was thunder and lightning in the distance. “We call it the Fountain of Imagination.”
“Does it have any powers?” asked Euphrosyne.
“No idea,” I said. “We just thought the name sounded cool.”
“Can I experiment with the water?” asked Euphrosyne.
“Go ahead,” I said. “You know where Apollo’s lab equipment is.”
Euphrosyne waved her hands. A large pitcher and basin and a few beakers and vials appeared. She arranged them on the floor. She snapped her fingers, and the pitcher filled with water from the fountain.
My attention was called away by a knock at my window. Hermes was hovering outside, held aloft by the little white wings growing out of his ankles. “What is it?” I asked.
“Is that Aglaea?” he asked me.
“Yeah,” I said. “Do you have a message for her?”
“No,” he said.
A moment later, both he and Aphrodite appeared in the middle of my room. Aphrodite was collapsed in Hermes’ arms, whimpering in agony. The skirt of her dress was soaked.
“Okay, your water broke,” said Aglaea. “Let’s get you back to my clinic.”
“No!” Aphrodite moaned. “I don’t want to go back to Olympus. It’s crazy there.”
“Things are getting intense on Olympus right now,” said Hermes. “Demeter’s totally losing it. She put up a thorn hedge around the throne room. Aphrodite and I got out right before it closed, but once it did, Zeus ordered that no one else can teleport in or out until things are resolved. So the court is basically being held hostage until Persephone comes.”
“Where’s Hephaestus?” asked Aglaea.
“He’d already gone back to the forge when the craziness started,” Hermes assured her. “But Eros and Psyche are on the inside.”
“Need I ask what side of the hedge Apollo’s on?” I asked with an attempt at nonchalance, hoping my physician goddaughter didn’t notice the spike in my heart rate and adrenaline level. She didn’t seem to. She was probably too busy pondering what I was pondering. That Zeus’ order was a cover for the fact that even he couldn’t teleport out of Demeter’s hedge. Sure, he could probably burn through it with his lightning bolts, but that’d still be revealing a weakness. All of which meant that everyone trapped inside the hedge really was trapped.
“I tried to get him to leave with me when things took a turn for the worst,” said Hermes, “but you know what an idiot he is. He just had to stay and see if he could talk Demeter down.” “Naturally,” I nodded. “Come on, let’s get Aphrodite to Apollo’s laboratory. There’s a cot in there.”
Aphrodite clung to the corner post of my bed with speechless whimpers.
“You’re not going to make her give birth in the lab, are you?” Euphrosyne protested. “It’s so cold and sterile!”
Aphrodite nodded piteously. Euphrosyne put a supporting arm around Aphrodite and stared at me with such reproach, such judgment, such pure disappointment.
“Oh, fine,” I relented. “Wait a second.” I removed my favorite comforter, snapped up five layers of towels, and arranged them on the bed. I said a silent requiem for my beautiful, fluffy mattress, which I doubted was long for this world.
“Thalia, help me get her situated,” said Aglaea. “Phrossie, can you boil some of that water?” she requested.
“Sure,” said Euphrosyne. She held her hands over the stone basin. It turned bright red. There would be a charred ring on the marble floor later, but I knew getting Hephaestus to fix it would be no problem. Phrossie had had him wrapped around her finger from day one.
“Is there anything I can do?” Hermes asked.
“Do you have any experience with midwifery?” Aglaea asked.
“I’ve attended one birth,” he said.
“Was it your own?” she asked. “Thalia, if he says yes, slap him.”
“With pleasure,” I said, rubbing my palms together.
“I choose not to answer,” said Hermes. “Please, I really don’t want to go back to Olympus right now.” A loud thunder crack punctuated his plea.
“Alright, you can stay as long as you help,” said Aglaea. “Get in my way and I throw you out.”
“Haven’t you been there for any of your own kids’ births?” Euphrosyne asked.
“Usually by the time they’re born, their moms don’t want me around anymore,” he said. “Or the moms’ husbands don’t.”
“You tried to come for Eros,” Aphrodite panted, somewhat verbal now that she was resting comfortably. “Ares didn’t.”
“He probably knew Hephaestus would’ve ripped his head off,” Hermes laughed as he smoothed Aphrodite’s hair away from her damp forehead.
“It would’ve reattached,” said Aphrodite. “Besides, Hephaestus is all talk. Athena can beat him up.”
“Baby, Athena can beat up any of us,” said Hermes.
“Hephaestus had no business being there for any – OW! – any of my births,” said Aphrodite. “They weren’t his.”
“I know,” said Hermes. “And I know this one isn’t mine. But I should’ve been there for the ones that were, and I’m here for this one.”
Aglaea quietly went about her work, her face clearly saying, Don’t mind me; go ahead and keep having this conversation about my husband and how you were married to him for centuries and cheating on him the whole time; this isn’t weird for me at all.
Out of nowhere, Euphrosyne said, “You’re so beautiful.”
“Of course I am,” Aphrodite said with a faint laugh, but it was obvious that she was touched by the compliment.
“I mean it,” said Euphrosyne. “I never imagined a woman could be so beautiful while she was in labor. You must be so strong. Your daughter’s going to love you.”
“You never know,” said Aphrodite. “Pushing someone out of your birth canal doesn’t – OW! – doesn’t seem to have much effect on how they feel about you.”
“Thalia, get some painkilling potions,” Aglaea interjected. I snapped some up and handed them over. Aglaea double-checked the vials to make sure I’d gotten the right ones. Some of Apollo’s potions could knock a full-blooded god out for hours or even days.
“But you’re the Goddess of Love,” said Euphrosyne, still focused on Aphrodite. “Anyone would love you. We all do, don’t we?” Forced murmurs of assent echoed throughout the room.
“You’re too sweet,” said Aphrodite. “I hope my daughter turns out to be as charitable as you are.”
“I don’t remember her father,” said Euphrosyne, “but if she’s anything like her mother, she’ll be wonderful.”
The daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis was born that night. It was the weirdest thing; the moment she was born, the sky cleared and the thunder stopped. A beam of moonlight shone through the window, illuminating mother and child. Pegasus, our flying horse, showed up at the window. That didn’t surprise me. The latch on his stall is just a formality.
But Pegasus was only the first in a parade. Birds, rabbits, squirrels, deer, wildcats, bears, animals I had never seen around the Parnassus Museum before all passed by the window as if they were paying homage. And the baby looked each one of them in the eye. She was as aware of them as they were of her. She smiled, almost beckoning. She reached out her hand and a bird flew to her wrist.
Then a wild boar came to the window.
The baby shrieked and beat her little pink fists in the air. She grasped one of my throw pillows and tried to aim it at the window. She screamed inconsolably, her face turning red and blue. The boar bowed his head in solemn apology and crept back into the woods. The baby kept crying. I heard Aphrodite whisper, “It’s okay, he’s fine now. He isn’t hurt anymore. He got better.” Euphrosyne came and touched the baby’s cheek. That calmed and quieted her.
“I wonder if she’s a telepath,” said Aglaea. “The boar made you think of Adonis’ death, and she saw it in your mind?”
“I’m sure that was it,” said Aphrodite. But I wasn’t sure, and I doubted she was, either.
There was a knock at my door. Apollo, Calliope, and Clio were there. At a nod from Aglaea, I let them in.
“Persephone’s here,” was all Calliope said. A look she shared with Aphrodite suggested there would be more later.
“Can I see the baby?” Apollo asked timidly.
“Might as well,” Aphrodite allowed. Apollo approached them. When the baby saw him, she gave him an uncanny smile of recognition. She held out her uncoordinated little arms in his general direction. “Go ahead, pick her up,” said Aphrodite. She didn’t look happy.
Apollo picked the baby up. He held her perfectly, naturally. She cooed as she waved her arms toward his face.
“Oh, sure,” Hermes teased, “I help deliver the kid and it doesn’t even notice I exist; you come in when everything’s done and you’re the star attraction.”
“Might help if you didn’t call her an ‘it’,” Apollo smirked at him. To Aphrodite, he said, “I told Adonis I’d be here for the baby if he wanted me to. Regardless of how things ended between us, I still mean that.” Though I couldn’t blame this innocent baby for the sins of her father, it still bugged me that Apollo had any affection at all for Adonis after the way he’d lied and cheated.
“I’m keeping her,” Aphrodite said with an edge in her voice.
“Of course,” said Apollo, gently returning the baby back to her mother, “but parenting alone is hard, as I know from experience. I don’t know how I would’ve managed without the Muses and Chiron. If there’s anything at all that I can do for your daughter, or for you, please ask.”
“I’ll see,” was all Aphrodite could say.
“What’s her name?” asked Clio.
“Beroe,” said Aphrodite.
“Ber-o-e, daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis,” Clio recorded.
“That’s such a pretty name,” said Euphrosyne. “I’ve never heard it before. What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, I just liked it,” Aphrodite said.
“It’s an ancient word,” said Clio. I knew the answer, too, though I guessed the significance was unknown to anyone except Aphrodite, Calliope, and me. I also guessed Aphrodite wanted to keep it that way for awhile. “It means ‘from the underground waters’.”
“Hm. How funny,” said Aphrodite. But I didn’t believe for a second that her choice was as random as she wanted us to think.
Apollo and Clio soon left mother and child to rest. Once Aglaea determined both of her patients were stable, she gave Aphrodite a few instructions and asked Calliope if it was alright for Aphrodite and the baby to stay here for a few days. Calliope agreed they could stay as long as they needed to. No one bothered to get the permission of the person whose room they were staying in for this alarmingly unspecific amount of time, but, whatever. Aglaea and Euphrosyne went home to Olympus. Hermes followed. It was down to me, Calliope, Aphrodite, and Wrinklefacething.
“Thalia,” said Calliope, “you can share my room for now. Why don’t you get yourself situated while I see if Aphrodite needs anything else?”
“Sure,” I accepted with grace and compliance. I know when people are trying to get rid of me. I’m not one to stick around where I’m not wanted.
Not without my Helmet of Darkness, anyway. The second I closed myself in the hallway, I summoned the helmet, put it on, and teleported my invisible self back into my room.
Aphrodite was telling Calliope all about Beroe’s reaction to the wild boar. Calliope and Aphrodite both shared my assessment of the cause. “I saw how she reacted to Apollo,” said Calliope. “The level of recognition in her face was unnatural for a newborn. I tried to dismiss it as Apollo being good with children, but after hearing about the boar…”
“Do you think she just has Adonis’ memories, or do you think she has all the memories of the dead, like your sons and your mom do?” asked Aphrodite. She held her baby a little closer.
“Good question,” said Calliope. “We probably won’t know until she starts talking.”
“Depending on the answer, I don’t want her to learn to talk around the Olympian Court,” said Aphrodite. “Like, what happens if she sees Zeus and freaks out because she remembers everyone he’s ever killed? Or Hera, or Ares, or any of them?”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” said Calliope. “After all, Apollo’s killed plenty of people, and Beroe was all affection and happiness with him.” Then she cringed. “Do you think she has all of Adonis’ memories?”
“I don’t see the big deal if she does,” said Aphrodite. “Eros walked in on me plenty of times when he was little, and he turned out fine.”
“I suppose so,” said Calliope. “If Beroe does have her father’s memories, and if any of them are traumatic or disturbing for her, we have the Goddess of Psychology on call and brain bleach on hand. As to whether she has more than just her father’s memories, I agree that it would be safer if she isn’t around the Olympian Court until she’s mature enough to process and control her reactions. Like I told Aglaea, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to.”
Um…did Calliope just loan out my room for the next six months to a year? It certainly sounded that way.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, thank you,” Aphrodite gushed. “These quarters aren’t much compared to mine on Olympus, but my baby’s safety comes first. We’re tough, aren’t we?” she cooed to the baby. “We can rough it for awhile, can’t we? Oh, yes, we can.”
When Calliope got back to her room, I was on her couch under a blanket, pretending to be asleep. “Thalia,” I heard her say. I didn’t move. “Thalia, I know you can hear me,” she said. “There’s no way you’ve gone to sleep yet. We need to talk.”
“Yeah, there’s no way I could’ve fallen asleep already.” I opened my eyes. “It’s not like I assisted a birth today or anything.”
“I thought providing a room and staying in it to make sure it wasn’t messed up too badly was the extent of your assistance,” said my cruel, unfeeling sister. “Come on, I need to talk to you.”
“About?” The fact that she’d just loaned out my room without asking me, maybe?
Calliope sat down on the end of the couch. “You and I haven’t really talked about Adonis’ death since it happened,” she said.
“What happened with Persephone today?” I sat upright, interested at last.
“I’ll get to that,” said Calliope. “I want to talk about Adonis’ ‘funeral rites,’ if we can call them that.”
“Let’s do call them that,” I agreed.
“You woke me up that day when you summoned me to Endymion’s Cave. I remembered Ares killing Adonis, and Persephone going back to Hades, but nothing after that. I couldn’t remember when or how I’d gotten back in my bed. But on my nightstand, there was a small crystal vial of water. The words ‘Drink when you’re alone’ were etched on it. When I drank it, the gap in my memory was restored. It must have been water from Lake Mnemosyne.”
“Wow. That’s some story,” I said. The truth was that I had followed Calliope to Hades aided by my Helmet of Darkness, and Mom had shown me where she keeps the vials. But I wasn’t sure how much of this I should tell her. Mom had known I was in Hades even though I was invisible. She didn’t reveal me to anyone. There was probably a good reason.
“Well, here’s the funny thing,” said Calliope.
“I like funny things.”
“Remember I summoned Aphrodite as soon as I got to the Cave?”
“Later, when I talked to her, she told me exactly the same story. She woke up in her own bed, remembered Adonis’ death but nothing after it, found a vial on her nightstand, drank the contents, and had her memory restored. We showed each other our vials. They were identical.”
“Did you ask Mom about it?”
“No,” said Calliope. This didn’t really surprise me since Mom had ordered Calliope’s memory wiped in the first place. Honey, you have no idea how sorry I am, I remembered Mom saying, but your choices are to drink this yourself or to have it poured down your throat while the guards restrain you. Of course, Mom knew I was secretly watching and could give Calliope the antidote later, but Calliope didn’t know that.
“What about Persephone?” I asked. “Did you ask her?”
“I didn’t.” Again, no surprise. It was pretty obvious that Mom had ordered the temporary memory wipe to protect Calliope from Persephone and Hades. “Other than Aphrodite,” said Calliope, “the only person I’ve talked to about this is Apollo. I left out most of the details of what happened while we were in Hades.” So he didn’t know about the Furies. Good to know. “And, though he wouldn’t say why, he thought I should talk to you.”
Damn it. How did Apollo always know when I was up to something? He rarely knew what, but somehow he always knew.
“Apollo blames me for all kinds of stuff I have nothing to do with,” I brushed her off. “He’s paranoid and delusional.”
“So you’re a psychology goddess now, too?” Calliope laughed.
“I think we all knew Apollo was mentally ill way before Psyche existed.”
“You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?” said Calliope.
I was silent for awhile. I wanted to be inside the circle. I wanted Calliope to know that we shared this secret. But Mom hadn’t told her. It seemed Mom was pretending the whole thing had never happened. What if there was some reason it was safer for Calliope not to know that I knew?
Besides, I really didn’t want Calliope to know about my Helmet of Darkness. She’d spoil all my fun.
“I can tell you that Mom gave me the potions,” I said at last, hoping that would reassure her that Mom had never intended for her memory loss to be permanent. “But I can’t tell you how.”
“Mom gave you the potions,” Calliope repeated. “Mom, whom I just got back from visiting? Who didn’t say a single word to me about the entire incident? Who still won’t tell me why my own son died? Who knew that Zeus, not Dionysus, killed him, but decided I didn’t need to know that? I hated Dionysus. I went without wine for two hundred years to spite him, Thalia. Wine. Two hundred years. For nothing.”
“You never liked him all that much to begin with,” I reminded her in a clumsy attempt at comfort. As the God of Wine and Revelry, Dionysus is the ultimate party boy. He’s an even bigger whore than Ares, though to be fair, all the Maenads do enter his thralls of their own free will. He and Apollo have been at odds ever since he joined the Twelve. Dionysus is everything Apollo’s spent his life trying to prove he isn’t. And, well, Apollo’s always been like family to us, so we tend to take his side in this ongoing rivalry. Though I’ve always secretly felt Apollo could learn a few things from his wilder, less-inhibited counterpart. Who, in turn, could stand a little inhibition.
“There’s a big difference between passive dislike and active hatred,” said Calliope. “I reserve the latter for people who do things like murder my children.”
“Dionysus did make out with his hammered half-brother that one time,” I reminded her. “Apollo acted like it was hyperbole when he called the memory ‘traumatic,’ but I think he was pretty traumatized.”
“That’s different,” said Calliope. “That’s a thing Dionysus really did. I still feel guilty for hating him so long over something he didn’t do. And he never even tried to defend himself.”
By this point, I knew any further attempts at comfort would be pointless, but I really wanted to point out that Dionysus’ most likely reason for ignoring Calliope’s centuries of hatred was that he’d never noticed. I wasn’t sure whether he’d had a moment of complete sobriety and lucidity in his adult life. But I decided to keep my mouth shut and let Calliope rant. She’d learned the truth about her son Orpheus’ death two years ago, and this was the first time since that she’d brought it up. To me, at least.
“And you know what the worst part of all of this is?” she said. “I still don’t know why Orpheus died. All I know is that Zeus killed him because he discovered ‘a great secret.’ Mom knows the secret. The Corybantes know the secret. None of them will tell me. My own mother and sons. Orpheus’ grandmother and brothers. I’d hoped Adonis could learn the secret for me when he went to the Elysian Fields, but his memories are as lost as Orpheus’ now. I’ve thought about trying to investigate on my own, but I wouldn’t even know where to start, or how to go about it without arousing suspicion.”
Calliope’s countenance was brave and strong as always, but I could see subtle tears of frustration and shame forming. “I can’t tell you how much I hate to admit this, but Zeus scares me. He scares me so much. I feel physically ill every time we have to go to Olympus. I haven’t even been able to consider being intimate with anyone since he…you know. After centuries of mourning Orpheus’ father, Hades rest his soul, I was finally ready for love again. Or at least sex. And Zeus took that from me. He used the form of someone I knew, cared for, and trusted. How can I know he won’t do it again? How can I trust anyone again? Not just about this, about everything. Who can I trust if my own mother, my own sons, my own sister, apparently have no problem hiding things about my own life from me?”
I threw my arms around her. We held each other in silence for the longest time. Once I felt like the silence had run its course, I said, “You can trust me, okay? I’ll tell you everything.”
For the first time, I did tell Calliope everything. I told her about the Fates believing I’d helped raise Echo from the dead by demanding a happy ending to her story. I left off the part about Apollo giving Echo an illicit “cure for death” invented by his son. That was his secret to keep or reveal. But the business with the Fates was my secret, and I felt like Calliope needed me to share it with her.
So I told her about the Fates testing me. About how it was possibly because of my blessing that Hephaestus finally gave Aphrodite the divorce she’d wanted and they’d both needed for ages; and that both of them went on to find happiness in their new lives, Hephaestus with Aglaea, and Aphrodite with whomever she wanted at any given moment. I told Calliope about how, after Zeus raped and impregnated her in Apollo’s body, I’d called on the Fates to let her and her children live “happily ever after.” How the Fates had summoned me after the Corybantes’ birth and told me that their conception had been fated. How the Fates also suspected that Calliope, as the Muse of Epic Poetry, had unconsciously influenced the Corybantes’ part in the scene the Fates had been weaving ever since we’d moved in with Apollo.
“They wanted to test you, too,” I told her. “I told them to leave you and the rest of our sisters out of it.”
“And that was it? You told the Fates to leave us alone, and they did?” said Calliope.
“Oh, of course. They’re totes wrapped around my finger,” I said, my sarcasm matching her incredulity. Then I got serious again and told her about their next test: Athena and Artemis. How I didn’t realize this until it was all over, but that the Fates wanted me to bring the two virgin goddesses together so that Artemis would tell Athena just how much abuse she’d suffered while Zeus raised her, and Athena would seek revenge. I didn’t go into details about Artemis’ history since, again, it was her secret to keep or tell. I only knew it in the first place because of my Helmet of Darkness. The Fates likely didn’t give a damn about how Zeus treated his children, but they did care when a god claimed before all and sundry that he was “ZEUS, LEADER OF THE FATES.” They wanted to use a vengeful Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Battle Strategy, as their hitman.
In conclusion, I told Calliope that Adonis’ death had been fated from the beginning, as had Aphrodite’s and Apollo’s love for him. The Fates needed Aphrodite to follow Adonis to Hades so they could both remember their true origins as two of the three Furies. And I did tell Calliope why and how I secretly followed them to Hades and saw the whole thing. I told her that Mom gave me an antidote for Adonis. I’d slipped it to him while he was on the barge to the Elysian Fields. So, for all we knew, he could have all his memories of both incarnations now.
“Did the Fates say why they needed Apollo to fall in love with Adonis?” Calliope asked.
“No.” This was true, though I had a theory. Apollo had chosen not to use his Cure for Death on Adonis because raising Hades and Persephone’s son from the dead would definitely have gotten their attention, and not in a good way. But Apollo had helped Aphrodite preserve Adonis’ body. The corpse now lay untouched and undisturbed in Endymion’s Cave. Surely Apollo was biding his time, waiting until it was safe to reunite Adonis’ soul with his body. Like I said, though, I didn’t want to tell Calliope about Apollo’s cure for death, so I kept my theory to myself.
“You want to know what I think?” said Calliope.
“I think the Fates used Apollo to get to you,” she said. “To call Adonis ‘captivating’ would be a great understatement. I always had a nagging feeling that there was more to him than we could see, and not necessarily in a good way, but I was still quite taken with him. We all were. You have to admit that at times you were, too. But seeing Apollo with him would always snap you out of it. And then you’d hate him.”
“I hate it when people lie to and cheat on my friends,” I said.
“Alright, if you want to pretend that’s all it was, I don’t feel like trying to reason with you right now,” said Calliope. “But the point is, you hated Adonis. Truly hated him, the way I hated Dionysus for so many centuries.”
“So you’re going to blame me for Adonis’ death?” I said. “I’ve hated plenty of people who have had long and disgustingly successful lives. And if my alleged powers mean I’m not allowed to have normal feelings because people might die, then screw everything.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all,” said Calliope. “You said yourself that the Fates had planned for Adonis to die before the end of summer no matter what. I don’t believe for a second that you made that happen. However. I think if Adonis had had your favor, which he likely would’ve if he hadn’t stolen the man you’re not in love with, the Fates wouldn’t have been able to give his story the tragic ending they’d written for him. Even as is, I don’t think Adonis’ story has actually ended. I think there’s more left for him, and that’s likely because of you. You said Apollo begged you to wish Adonis well the night before he died. Maybe without your blessing, we’d have burned Adonis’ body on a funeral pyre and left no hope of resurrection.”
“I’d never thought of it like that,” I said. I truly hadn’t.
“Have you talked to Mom about this business with the Fates?” asked Calliope.
“No,” I said. “Apollo, Athena, and now you are the only ones who know. Although, Mom kind of brought it up to me once.”
“When? What did she say?”
“Remember when Apollo was delivering your babies, he told me, ‘You know what you can do; I believe you can do it’?”
“Not really. I was having seven babies delivered by Asclepian section at the time.”
“Right. Anyway, after he said that, Mom went into telepathy mode and said ‘So you are learning.’ She told me to not be afraid as I begin to remember the powers she’s given me, but to be extremely careful. I tried to ask her about it, but she said she’d told me too much already and that it wasn’t a good time to talk. You were in surgery, remember? I never got a chance to bring it up again.”
“I don’t know what in Tartarus is going on with Mom, but I think we can assume any attempt to get information from her will be futile,” said Calliope. “But I’m so glad you told me all of this. If the Fates call on you again, do tell me. I can face it if they want to drag me into their trials.”
“Please don’t say things like that.”
“I mean it.”
“Apparently they’ve been toying with me all along anyway,” said Calliope. “You know what laying low and staying out of it got me? Getting raped and impregnated with septuplets that I didn’t get to raise because I would’ve had to live in constant fear of my rapist stealing them from me, or his wife punishing me for something that was not my fault. I’ve always been the good daughter, the Leader of the Muses, the one who kept the family together after we left the Underworld, and how does Mom reward me? Forcing me to wipe my memory who knows how many times, and keeping secrets about my own life for centuries. And I am tired of it. I won’t put up with any of it any more. I have run out of damns to give. Don’t try to protect me. Protecting me has not done a goddamn thing. Please. No more secrets.”
I couldn’t really argue with that. So I didn’t.
“No more secrets.”