Hera’s Handmaidens

Hera Borrowing the Girdle of Aphrodite by Guy HeadIn Greek mythology, Hera was the queen of the gods and the wife of Zeus, the king of the gods. She championed the well-being of women and the sacred essence of marriage.

Her own daughters – Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth) and Hebe (goddess of youth) – are listed as members of her retinue. Iris (the goddess of the rainbow), the nymphs of the clouds, and the nymphs of the seasons also attended her.

In my novel, Fate’s Door, I envisioned her entourage as a less static group, drawn from the offspring of royalty among the myriad nature spirits associated with all the features of the world, and changing over time.

Nymphe by Gaston Bussière_Thus does Eilidh, eldest sister of my heroine Nerine, join Hera’s cortege.

When Nerine visits her sister on Mount Olympus, Eilidh greets her warmly, entertains her during her stay, and gives a party on the eve of Nerine’s departure. I suspect that Hera herself would not have approved of the course that farewell celebration took, had she been present, but the nymphs of ancient Greece did have a reputation for wildness. 😀

The scene with the party was cut from the final version of Fate’s Door, but I share it here for those of us who wish we could visit the Mount Olympus of mythology.

20 ~ Eilidh’s Farewell

That evening Nerine saw a part of Olympus new to her, when Eilidh and the handmaidens gave a party in honor of Nerine’s departure.

The festivity took place in and around an oval pool of clear water emerging from a grotto in the mountainside. Unlike Agnippe’s sacred spring or the many streams of the area, this body of water had not been left in its natural state. The pool itself was scooped from grooved white granite and surrounded by a broad terrace of the same material, even within the grotto. Fluted white columns and a balustrade edged the outside terrace, but within the grotto a wall of rose marble had been carved, depicting a scene of merfolk celebrating.

Only the handmaidens attended, none of the greater gods, which was a relief.

Eilidh donned the pectoral and belt in which she’d left home, platinum with clear yellow topazes. She was as beautiful now at twenty-three as she’d been at eighteen, maybe more so, because her pride had mellowed into confidence. Nerine chose to swim bare, since the handmaidens did so. If you could call it swimming. Mostly they splashed and shrieked and laughed.

Nerine raced Eilidh to the grotto end of the pool and back, discovering that she was quite a bit faster than her sister.

The handmaidens laid bets on the race, with the losers drinking goblets of mead, while the winners quaffed nectar.

Then the winners decided this wasn’t quite fair and begged Eilidh and Nerine to race again, so that the winners would receive the mead. The party grew far from decorous after that.

Nerine gave several races away, not wanting to make her sister feel bad.

But Eilidh didn’t seem to mind when she lost, joining the handmaidens in drinking mead whenever the round called for the losers to drink.

Nerine stayed away from the mead altogether. It was too sweet for her taste. And when she saw the drunkenness it induced in the handmaidens, she was doubly glad for her choice. Five of them sat on the steps down into the water and sang off key, while another group retired to the grotto to – apparently – hold an orgy.

Eilidh, hiccuping, dragged Nerine over to the balustrade and began sobbing, saying that she had never appreciated her sister properly and now it was too late, because Nerine was going away.

“Oh, oh, oh!” wailed Eilidh. “Shay you forgive me, do!” she slurred.

Nerine couldn’t help laughing. It was all so ridiculous.

She reassured her sister, and then put her to bed in the shrine with all the divans.

As she checked her pouch of toiletries and the satchel with her writing supplies, Galena entered. She had not attended the party, and was garbed for her repose, although not in the usual sleeping gown. Instead she wore garments similar to Nerine’s travel costume, tunic and trews, but woven of a linen so fine it was translucent.

“I am come to offer you more restful quarters for the night, as I must suppose this location will be quite insupportable when the handmaidens eventually arrive.” A smile was strongly present in the tone of Galena’s voice. Nerine was beginning to love that smile sound already for the way it lifted her spirits.

She accepted Galena’s offer gratefully. She did not indeed want to remain to witness the handmaidens’ drunken return, whenever that might be.

The more restful quarters turned out to be a tapestry pavilion or tent – Nerine wasn’t quite sure what to call it – with blankets and sheets laid upon fleeces on the tapestry floor. She found them more comfortable than her divan and fell asleep quickly, despite her excitement about the morrow.

*     *     *

Galena awoke Nerine at dawn.

They visited the shrine of the fountain to perform their morning ablutions and then dressed in their travelling clothes.

The weight of the garments felt unfamiliar and strangely sumptuous, as though they meant she were to participate in a mysterious rite. Perhaps she was. The journey across Európi would require nearly ninety days. She would be travelling so many stadia that the distance was measured in leagues – three hundred and seventy some leagues. She would see lands and peoples utterly strange to her, and she would not rest more than a night or two in any one place. If that were not a rite of passage, what was?

*     *     *

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon

For more extra chapters from Fate’s Door, see:
Update on Fate’s Door (Eilidh and Mount Olympus)
Nerine’s Youngest Sister (Agnippe and Mount Helicon)
The Nine Muses of Antiquity (Agnippe and the Muses)

 

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