The storm had passed, and the sun began to shine. It looked like the start of a beautiful day, yet there was an ominous feeling in the air – as if one last thundercloud still hovered overhead, invisible even to my keen sight.
Thankfully, Arche’s human senses did not seem able to detect it. She was eagerly looking forward to what the new day would bring, especially when she saw I hadn’t vanished into thin air like before.
I ventured outside to survey the area, recalling my brother’s warning. He had left as the sun rose, saying he’d been ordered to attend to serious matters in the East and wouldn’t be able to return until they were resolved. He probably wouldn’t have been allowed to come to my aid a second time, anyway. This was my challenge, and unless the situation became desperate, I had to see it through on my own.
Still, this atmosphere… I peered through the trees up at the clear blue sky. Things were quiet – too quiet. All seemed normal – too normal. A beautiful earthly day – too earthly.
It felt as if I would sag beneath the weight of this human body. Never had I assumed a form that was so suffocating. Also, I’d never experienced physical pain before; so, the sensations in my back, shoulders, and neck were torturous. I stretched, hoping it would provide a measure of relief. It wasn’t enough.
Now, to attend to Arche. Returning to the cave, I gave her another piece of bread to stave off the hunger. Choosing not to trust the freshwater stream I’d discovered since Poseidon seemed linked to it, I also conjured a small amount of drinking water. I then carefully extinguished the last of the fire and made my way outside again, Arche following close behind.
“I will return you to Attica. There you will seek employment with a weaver.”
“A weaver?” she repeated, surprise and disappointment in her voice.
I read the upset in her mind. She’d expected I would stay with her all day, visible and tangible – that we’d travel to some distant village, away from Attica and the sad memories it held.
She chose not to speak these things aloud but hung her head and mumbled, “My lady, I don’t know anything about weaving.”
“This woman has a kind heart. She will teach you.”
“But…” she stuttered, anxiety trickling in, “but what if I can’t learn?”
“You must apply yourself, little one. Do you still wish to serve me?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Then be willing to do anything I ask. Go to the shop of the weaver and offer to work as a servant. Explain that you are an orphan, free-born, without obligation. The people there will be generous and give you safety and a roof over your head. Work hard, and you’ll become a trusted member of the household and eventually be invited to learn a new skill. That skill will serve you well, and you’ll soon make a name for yourself.”
Arche bowed her head, compliantly this time, a mist forming in her eyes. “Will I never walk beside you again?”
“You’ll walk beside me every day, if you so choose. When it’s time, I will appear to you again; but you won’t know when or how. Wait for me. Pay heed to all you see and hear, for there will be signs of my coming; but they’ll be subtle. Now come. We must go.”
We tramped through the undergrowth and soon reached the main road. The rain had turned dirt to mud, and there were several puddles along the way. Feeling an emotional heaviness in the air, I realized it was coming from Arche.
“Why do you grieve?”
She glanced up, startled that I knew what she was feeling. “I don’t want you to go.”
“And…?” I coaxed.
She lowered her head, feeling a bit guilty. “And this is not what I thought serving the Gods would be like.”
“What did you expect it to be like, little one?”
“I don’t know, just – different. Like the old tales. Adventures in far off places, seeing new worlds being created, always in Their company and never alone. Now I feel alone.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere,” I chuckled. “Don’t you still see me? Hear me?”
“Yes, my lady; but when we reach the city, you will leave.” She was on the verge of crying now.
“No,” I said, stopping. Placing a finger under her chin, I lifted her face to look at me. “The Gods are anywhere you let them in. You say you thought there might be adventures in far off places?”
“Was not your lesson yesterday adventurous? And as far as seeing new worlds being created, look there.” I pointed to the branches of a nearby tree. A family of birds was starting to venture out of their nests and bring food to their young, the mother quickly dropping nourishment into their eager mouths. “Is that not a beautiful new world?”
Arche began to smile and nodded.
“And as for always being in the Gods’ company,” I continued, “did you not say your parents taught you that we see all, even if men don’t see us? When are you not in our company?”
“I understand,” she said, “but sometimes it’s hard when we don’t see you. It makes us feel alone when it looks like no one is there. I will do as you ask and work as a servant. I suppose epic adventures are not meant for all.”
I raised my eyebrows and regarded her playfully. “Oh, it’s epic adventures you seek, is it?” And then I gathered my own courage and jumped into the nearest puddle, splashing water on her ankles.
She uttered a startled cry and then started at me in disbelief. “My lady, your feet are dirty,” she observed, holding back a chuckle.
“And it feels repulsive to me, but if I’m not humble enough to walk barefoot through a puddle, then I’m not much of a servant to the Above, am I?” I splashed more water on her.
She shrieked and ran away, but it was such a funny situation she couldn’t help laughing. Soon, we were chasing each other through the puddles; and although the exertion and humidity did nothing to ease the discomfort of my new body, I didn’t mind because she would remember this lesson for a long time.
“Ai!” I cried out as something cool and moist hit me in the side of the head. It was mud.
Carried away by the spirit of fun, Arche had grabbed a handful of mud and thrown it at me. Now she froze, shocked by what she’d impulsively done, fearful that I might be angry.
“Forgive me, my lady. I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean…”
I picked up a handful myself. “You should run if you fear being the next target.”
Her eyes widened and the smile came back before she raced away. I followed, huffing and puffing now, one hand raised threateningly.
“Flee! Flee, little mortal! I can throw better than you!”
Arche rounded the bend with me directly behind. What followed happened so quickly, my human eyes were barely able to see it. A figure leaped out from the undergrowth, cutting between the girl and myself. I hardly had time to register its presence before I was thrown into the bracken on the side of the road. The sound of a scream reached my ears, and I looked up to see the figure was of a man, shield on his arm, drawing a sword with his free hand. He appeared to be a guard or possibly a soldier, but there was something about him that didn’t seem quite – human, though he obviously was.
The scream had come from Arche, who was several paces away, locked in the grip of a second man, a dagger at her throat. The second man was not a guard. He was scruffy and unkempt, dressed in common clothes. His mind quickly revealed to me that he made his living robbing travelers, but again there was something about him that wasn’t quite right.
“Release her,” I said calmly, rising slowly, my eyes on both men.
“Give me your coin,” the thief demanded.
“I don’t carry money, and the child you hold is a beggar and of no use to you. Release her.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t belong here.”
There was a quality to his voice that made me pause. “Excuse me?”
“You’d don’t belong here. This is our territory, not yours.”
The heaviness of my body was too much to bear. It was as if I was at a breaking point. And then, something extraordinary happened. I was able to shift just enough to re-gain my true perspective, to see beyond – and my heart leaped into my throat: a mass of energy, of consciousness, hovering on the horizon and streaming through the air.
“Poseidon,” I whispered.
Neither of them reacted, but I could see their minds were not their own. Poseidon’s consciousness mingled with theirs. It flowed around both of them, in them, through them, in tiny streams of light and particles that resembled minuscule grains of grey sand.
I could hear the thief speaking again. “Maybe we could get a good price for them.” Apparently, he was considering selling us as slaves. He seemed strangely unaware of most of what his companion said and did, only interested in the thrill of gaining more victims, more coin.
However, the guard was another matter. He almost seemed to know what I was, and because of that, Poseidon’s hold on him was different.
“You have no place here. Leave.”
I held my ground, summoning what strength I had left to prepare for what I could see coming. “Poseidon, I see you,” I said in an undertone. “Release the girl and let the men go. I was serious when I said…”
“It’s my right to test my followers’ loyalty,” he interrupted telepathically, not bothering to speak through the human. “You have no grounds for complaint now. Leave.”
“Let Arche go, and I…”
A shout jolted me out of the shift. Arche, unable to see what I could, had assumed we were lost and taken matters into her own hands and brought her heel down as hard as possible on the thief’s toes. He cried out in pain, loosening his hold on her. He tried to grab her again, but she sunk her teeth into his hand and twisted completely out of his grasp.
“Run!” I yelled; and the second her back was turned, I called for my sword and shield.
I didn’t want to have to kill these humans. A mortal stood no chance against a Deity, and therefore, it wasn’t a fair fight. Poseidon was the one responsible. My sword and shield were unusually heavy in my hand, but I easily sliced through the guard’s shield. The blow was powerful enough to knock him completely off balance.
I took a swing at the lines of energy linking him to the larger consciousness, but the enchantment was too strong. The thief had abandoned him to chase Arche. I stepped on his sword with my bare foot, and the blade shattered into a thousand pieces. Then the point of my sword was at his throat.
“Stay there. If you pursue me, I won’t be as merciful.”
My clumsy body was slow, infuriatingly slow. The air was thick, too thick. I raced after Arche, sensing the thief’s mind, as well. She was fast, but he was gaining on her.
Then another figure leaped out onto the road in front of me, another thief, this time armed with a club. I knocked the club out of his hand and gave him a warning cut on the arm before pushing him to the ground. Then another human appeared, this one an honest villager – no longer, though. Then another, and another, each one’s mind a haze, each one seemingly encased in a swirling grey cloud that streamed in and out of them.
Some tried to attack from behind. I called for my breast and backplates, and even they seemed to weigh more than usual. My muscles burned, and it was becoming more difficult to breathe.
Poseidon was trying to overwhelm me. I’d seen him use these tactic with adversaries before. He was trying to force me to go in the opposite direction, away from Attica, to prevent me from ever returning to the city again.
However, Arche had run straight for the city. In her panic, she sought the safety of a crowd. Surprisingly, she’d also remembered my instructions about the weaver and decided to try to make it back despite the odds, hoping to quickly find the home and take shelter there.
I caught up to the thief, his mind wholly intent on pursuing the child before him, reaching out his hand to grasp the back of her peplos. I whispered an incantation, and my weapons and armor vanished, leaving me looking completely human again. Arche mustn’t see anything that would hint at my true identity, as Mother and Father had instructed.
Yet in that same moment, fate intervened. Arche tripped. She’d caught her toe on a stone lying on the dirt road and fallen. The man lifted her by her hair, making her scream. I could see his dagger was drawn, and I was still several paces away.
In the same movement that had accompanied the incantation, I picked up a large stick and closed the distance. Bringing the stick up high, I struck him on the back of the head hard enough that it knocked him out.
“Arche!” I lifted her from his grip as he fell – and saw it was too late.
She was covered in blood, her throat cut. The light had already left her eyes, and I watched helplessly as the white, wispy essence of her spirit separated from her body. The surrounding energy was so thick and the residue of the fear she’d felt was unbearable to me, and I wept as I saw her light was not going to the place of rest but instead hovered trapped in the in-between space.
Poseidon. Where was he? I looked around angrily, tears still streaming. The grey static-like energy was still weaving all around the humans, though most were still either unconscious from my blows or trying to pick themselves up off the ground; but where was he?
There, rising just a bit over the horizon now. I sensed he was rather surprised by the turn of events. While he could influence the minds of men, he didn’t have complete control over them. The thief’s sudden actions were not what he’d planned, though he had wanted something drastic to happen in order to scare me away.
I rose to my feet, righteous anger boiling inside me. He would answer for this atrocity! I would personally drag him before the high throne myself if need be! Yet before I could make a move, the silent thunder rang out.
Everything human and earthly faded from view, except the dirt road which seemed to glimmer now with a thousand tiny sparkles. A spherical dome of white light appeared overhead, and my human disguise dissolved in the presence of such powerful energy. Poseidon appeared in his divine form, as well, bowing low as I did the same. It seemed I wouldn’t have to drag him before the throne after all. They had come here, and I didn’t dare look.
“Children,” Mother Rhea said, her voice calm but with a tinge of sadness, “what has happened here?”
Of course, they both knew; they’d been watching the whole time but wanted to see how we would answer.
Poseidon immediately stood and replied, “I have completed the task you gave me, Great Ones. I have found many souls, not only in Attica but far and wide, who will heed my calling. I have tested them, as is my right to do, and found them true.”
“And what of the life that has been taken?” Father Chronos asked.
He hesitated and chose his words carefully. “I did not command that, Great One. The mortal alone is responsible for his actions.”
I raised my eyes at the sound of Father’s voice, and he saw the tears that were still on my face despite the human mask being removed. “I have done all you asked,” was the only answer I had strength to give.
Even in the blinding light, I could make out the expression of pain that crossed his face. “Tell me.”
“I found one soul, the child Arche, who had great potential and true love of Heaven and wisdom. Not in an age have I seen a mortal try so hard to be devoted to unconditional love and be willing to surrender so much. I tested her, and she passed. I taught, and she understood as much as it was possible for her to understand at that young age. When I asked that she give away all she had, she did. When I asked that she face her fears, she did. When I showed her she had begun to use her devotion as a source of worldly pride, she had regret and vowed to change.
“And now her spirit lingers, caught in the in-between because of what was done here, which you saw. Please, if I have found favor in any way, let her be spared!” I began to weep, my heartbreaking. “Don’t let her wander lost and confused. Please, please, give her safe passage to the pleasant places.”
“Dry your tears, sweet one, and take heart,” Rhea said. “You have our word that all will be well. We’ve seen that your words are true and that Arche is, indeed, a loyal soul. She will not be lost.”
Chronos’ gaze turned to Poseidon. “Son, you have worked hard to fulfill your mission and have truly found a great number of potential followers. However, that was not your assignment. You were instructed to find how many of the mortals seek power, not how many seek to follow you.
“Athena was instructed to learn how many seek love. She has done this, and although she only found one soul, even that is precious. Had she been given more time, she may have found others just as willing. However, she was unable to because of your conflict.
“Therefore, we’ve decided that to award governance of Attica – or to decide what the mortals’ ultimate fate will be – based on what happened here would be unfair. The rules have not been followed; so the truth has not been properly shown.”
“Great Ones,” Poseidon said, bristling at Father’s words, “is it not my divine right to test my followers’ devotion?”
“Yes, son, it is,” Mother answered, “but as Lord Chronos said, you were not sent here to test their loyalty to you. Your instructions were to weigh their hearts, nothing more. You placed a different interpretation on our words.”
“Then Athena should be reprimanded, as well. She made contact, which was against your orders!”
“The orders were for neither of you to reveal your true nature to the humans. She followed those instructions. Arche didn’t know who or what she truly was. Even at the last, Athena had the presence of mind to conceal her magic so the girl would not see it.
“You were the one who forced her hand in battle, a battle that had no purpose. And whether the humans’ intent to challenge her was wholly their own or not, you still permitted it. You admitted they were your followers; so, you must take accountability for the fact that they did this in your name while you stood by and made no action to prevent it.”
Father spoke again. “I see a man who will rise to power in Attica – a wise man, just and compassionate, who loves the Gods as the Gods love him. He will make many new laws and guide the people to a purer way of life. The humans will revere him and make him their king, and his wife will bare him three daughters. One will act as the vessel for this child’s spirit, and because she has met her destiny and proven herself worthy through her selfless acts, she will be given to the Above for the sake of mankind. She will be the first priestess of Athena and will serve in the temple her father shall build.
“Therefore, the temporary fate of these humans is decided. They shall endure until the day chosen for the selection of their governing Deity. Then, their hearts shall be weighed again through their own thoughts, emotions, and actions. Based on the choice they make that day, Attica will either rise or fall; but the house of the virtuous man shall endure for as long as the race exists.
“As for you, my son, you have done the humans an injustice by influencing their minds. You must weigh the results of your actions. You will not be permitted to commune with them again until the day of choosing. You will still have the opportunity to select a city for yourself, but when you do, you must prove to both them and us that you are truly ready for such a position.
“Now return to your kingdom in peace. Contemplate our words and know that we love you as much as before and wish no ill to befall you.”
“Athena,” Mother said, “we see your heart and feel your pain. Do you wish ill upon the Lord of the Sea?”
I took a deep breath of the heavenly atmosphere, feeling a measure of relief at last. “No, Great Ones. I seek not revenge, only justice and balance. You have been gracious to Arche’s soul, and I thank you. And to give her as a priestess for me is a greater blessing than I could ever hope for.”
In flash of rolling energy that thundered like a wave against the shore, Poseidon suddenly vanished from view. The fact that he did so without allowing Chronos and Rhea to leave first, or at least paying proper respect, was an act of defiance. His bitterness was almost palpable, and as the last of his image faded, I could sense a new thought forming in his mind.
A strategy. He knew when the day of choosing came, I would more than likely choose Attica. He would, as well. There was no law against more than one Deity selecting the same city. He could use that as a loophole to confront me yet again. And this time, he would be ready. The battle for the city was yet to come, and time has no meaning for us – especially in the realm of the sea.
I stared after him, awestruck. Such a devious streak frightened me. In all the ages I’d known him, he’d never been so obsessed. Obsession was not a common trait among Deities. In fact, it wasn’t a divine trait, at all. Where had he gotten it from? And what was it about this place that made him so desperate to possess it? Perhaps I shouldn’t wait to find out.
If Poseidon was this fixated on the humans of Attica, then the longer I waited the more dangerous the situation could become, both for them and me. I wasn’t afraid of him, but I was afraid of the strange madness that came over him whenever he thought of this seemingly insignificant place in a world full of other towns, villages, and cities that were also seeking guidance.
Yes, I would not wait – could not wait. I would get to the bottom of this conflict once and for all, and when the day of choosing did come, I wouldn’t let it be what he hoped it would be…whatever that was.
Mother and Father had complete faith in me. I’d never let them down before. Still, I was surprised that they agreed so easily to let me venture into this place. No God or Goddess had visited the Lord of the Sea in his own realm before – partly because it could be a wild and oppressive atmosphere and partly because Poseidon never let anybody in. The rare few who were invited usually weren’t given the option of leaving.
So here I stood in front of the only gateway in or out of his realm, waiting to see what he would make of someone coming to him of their own freewill. And what would he think when he realized it was me? It was a dark place, not unlike the night sky. There was no sense of up or down, left or right, forward or back. The gate itself was invisible when closed, but I could sense where it was.
Finally, it opened, resembling a swirling mass of water that came out of nowhere. Composed, I moved forward into it. There was lightning inside like a storm over the sea, and I felt a measure of resistance. Strange. If he’d chosen to let me in, why become defensive?
Images flashed before me, terrifying ones. Records of people who’d drowned or otherwise met some unfortunate end that was connected to the sea. This was quickly followed by a sensation I’d never known before, a feeling of being cut off from my home, the great above.
Strange thoughts flitted through my consciousness. What if I can never get out of here? What if I can never go back? Already I was feeling my connection to the above being stretch almost to the breaking point. He was trying to invoke fear in me, fear and doubt.
I wouldn’t let him. And then I was through the gate and stood before him in his great hall.
He smirked, that old air of superiority back in place. He could tell I didn’t appreciate his little test.
“If you were human, you’d be enjoying this. Just think of what it would do to their egos if one of them were able to say they’d been to my realm and seen my face and lived to tell about it!”
“If I were human, you never would’ve let me in – at least, not alive.”
“Come now, admit it. You love our little spats. What would your eternity be without me to challenge you? Boring, that’s what.”
“So wise and noble, yet you never let anyone in.”
Irritated by my refusal to be sidetracked, he changed tactics and motioned to the fire burning in a golden brazier nearby. “Like it? They gave it to me not long after you left Minos. It’s been generations in their time but only days in ours. You don’t have a flame of your own, do you?”
“Neither have you, and that troubles you.”
His expression was a mixture of puzzlement and amusement. “Clearly, you haven’t been listening. I just said…”
“They gave it to you after I left Minos,” I calmly interrupted. “Yes, I heard; but that’s not what I see. I see that it’s made of a collection of fires lit by small groups of mortals, only a handful at a time. And even then, they only light them when they want something from you. It’s not like the flames that burn to our beloved Mother and Father, gigantic even by the Gods’ standards. Even our brothers and sisters receive more devotion than you. Now you’ve begun comparing your flame to Theirs, and it seems – infinitesimal.”
“You and your fancy words,” he scoffed, staring deeply into the flame as if I wasn’t of interest anymore.
In turn, I gazed deeply into him and found what I was looking for: the key, the answer I’d been seeking, the reason for the conflict, the constant arguments, the lack of resolution. And I spoke it aloud – the one thing he’d never admit to anyone.
“You feel unappreciated, unnecessary…and unloved.”
I could almost hear the thin veneer crack. He quickly regained his superior attitude, though, and strolled back up to his throne.
“I think you’ve missed the point of my demonstration.”
For the first time since the day our fights began, my heart went out to him. I pitied him. How could he be so blind? “Chronos and Rhea do love you; we all do and always have. We’re family, now and for eternity. Nothing can change that. A God’s worth is not measured by how many fires burn to Him, Brother.”
“I am not your brother, and stop lecturing me as if I were a child!” he snapped, the air reacting to his vibration as if it were the crack of a whip. “The point is, you have not one flame that burns to you at all. Now there’s competition against your claim to Attica, and that makes you feel insecure. So, you come to plead your case.”
“I never plead.”
“Then why are you here?”
I folded my hands, composed myself, and smiled cordially. “I’ve come to ask for a small piece of coral, if there’s any you no longer want.”
The silence that followed stretched for an unusually long while as Poseidon stared at me, dumbfounded.
“I’ve come to ask for a small piece of coral.”
Anger gave way to confusion. “Coral?” One would’ve thought the word was unknown to him.
“Yes. A dear friend of mine, one of the dryads, gave me a gorgeous necklace – the most beautiful ever made. Oh, if you could only see it! It has representations of every element in the universe, except one. There’s no representation of the sea, your realm.
“I thought a piece of coral would do nicely, but the poor creature is so terrified of your magnificent presence she dare not ask you for it. Nevertheless, she did try. You almost gave her a heart attack when you chased her on the beach last spring.
“I felt her devotion to me had been tested enough and have come to ask for it myself. Call it a peace offering. Alright, a diplomatic gesture,” I amended, seeing his eyes narrow, “a sign that we’re still family.”
He continued to stare at me through narrowed eyes – then suddenly burst into laughter, the whole reverberating with the sound.
“Coral? You come to ask me for coral?” he managed to say.
“Ha-ha!!!!” he laughed again, leaning on the arm of his throne for support.
It had been a very long time since I’d seen him laugh. Usually, nothing made him happy – not truly happy. His hysteria was so amusing, I smiled, too; and for a moment, I thought this might be the end of the tensions between us.
“Oh, Athena,” he took a deep breath… and glared at me with eyes of ice and stone. “Do you honestly expect me to fall for that?”
So sudden was the change in him that I was almost frightened. He rose slowly and descended the steps again, looming over me like an enraged animal. Instinctively, I took a small step back, wondering if I would have to call upon my armor again.
“Do you think me a idiot?”
“I assure you, I mean no disrespect…”
“Disrespect! This is some trick you’ve brought from Zeus, isn’t it?” he spat venomously.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by his assumption but was. “No. I merely came…”
“Typical. Always conspiring with each other. Always at each other’s beck and call. You aid and abet him, and he does the same for you. And he calls himself a God! He doesn’t even uphold his own laws! Why he wouldn’t even punish you for what you did to that Nymph. What was her name?”
It truly felt as if I’d been slapped across the face, and memories came flooding back unbidden. He remembered the name and knew perfectly well it had been an accident but never ceased to enjoy unjustly accusing me of something darker. Seeing my distress, he smirked again.
“Perhaps you’re not as worthy of your station as you think.”
I closed my eyes and breathed. “Oh, brother mine, if you only understood. I wish for you to learn from the past as I have. I want our family to be without strife, without friction, and without dissension. Why is that too much to ask?”
“I am not the cause of it, as you well know. Pose your question to him, since you’re so loyal to him.” He walked back up to his throne.
I took a deep breath to steady myself. “Am I to understand then that you will not part with your coral?”
“No, I will not part with my coral – and certainly not to you! I didn’t take you for such a fool.” He sat down, brushing something off the arm rest. I heard it clatter to the floor.
“A stone. It offends me, so I eliminate it.”
His cold answer was enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine, but I was suddenly hit with a flash of inspiration. “May I have it?”
He looked down his nose at me and answered condescendingly. “Yes, take it away. Have it made into a diadem to represent your crowning achievements, if you wish. And every time you gaze at it, remember where it came from.”
“I shall.” I picked it up, bowed respectfully, and began to leave.
I turned back.
“I shall see you in Attica.”
“I look forward to it.”
I turned again.
He looked at me, his eyes hard and unyielding. “The next time you enter my kingdom, it will be the last thing you’ll ever do.”
“Yes, my Lord Poseidon,” I said calmly. “I have no doubt it will be.”
My feel touched the sparkling shores, and I found myself on the celestial coastline that surrounded Chronos and Rhea’s vast estate. Far in the distance, the outer walls of the great hall shimmered, towering into the plasma sky. The fresh air was a welcomed relief from the fluid of earth’s atmosphere and the suffocating energy I’d just left.
I felt the tiny pebble concealed in my hand and smiled to myself as I closed my eyes and breathed a prayer of thanks. Opening my eyes again, I was surprised to see my older brother had materialized a few yards away.
“Greetings! I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Clearly.” The flat statement hinted at his disapproval. He leisurely walked over to me, his face neutral. “Are you alright?”
“Fine – and you?”
He ignored the question. “You shouldn’t have gone. Must I always come running after you?”
“What are you talking about? Mother and Father approved. Even you have said many times that regardless of our differences, we are still family and should behave as one. I went in peace. There was no danger.”
Immediately, his expression went from neutral to indignant. “You’re not addressing a human now, Athena. I know perfectly well what he was thinking…”
“And so do I, but outcomes change. You didn’t have any concerns when I met him alone in that cave,” I reminded him in a reasonable tone.
His frown deepened, making his countenance look far more severe than it really was. “That was then, and this is now. The cave was neutral territory. The sea is his. I wouldn’t be much of a brother if I ignored all possible danger.”
I gave a small smile. “Concern always was one of your more endearing qualities.”
“Now perhaps you’ll tell me your secret.”
“I sense something that was in his hands is now in yours.”
I held up the little stone for him to see. Puzzled, he stepped closer to get a better look as I let it drop back onto my palm. It was hardly more than a pebble, meaningless, valueless. And yet…
Carefully, I exhaled a single breath into it. The crusty outer layer began to crack and then dissolved, revealing an inner core. With one finger, I massaged some warmth into it; and in seconds, it was transformed from a pebble to a seed.
“What is it?”
“Something Poseidon threw away believing it to be worthless. He has so many riches, and this was just a humble stone that was always getting in the way. He forgot our parents gave him all he has, including the simplest of these. So, he discarded it.
“Now correct me if I’m wrong, brother. A gift discarded by one may be claimed by another – correct?”
“Yes. When gratitude is lacking, a blessing may be given to one who recognizes the value of it. Such is the law of the Divine.”
I leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, “I saw the value of it, and now this will be my gift to mankind. It will feed them, heal them, and give them resources to care for their children. It will serve as a reminder that no blessing is insignificant, and that the Gods will live forever whether men believe in us or not.”
He smiled a wide, approving smile now. “You may be worthy of your future title, after all. The Goddess of Wisdom, indeed. You do realize Poseidon will have something to say about this when he finds out.”
“Yes, he never did have a sense of poetry – or humor. Still, one day it may help him to understand.”
I smiled triumphantly and robed myself in my slightly less-frightening form. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, brother. I have plans to make, a human to train, and a city to win.”
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