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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The Nine Muses of Antiquity

Roman sarcophagus depicting the nine musesThe Muses of the ancient Greeks were goddesses of the knowledge embodied in poetry, song, and story. They served as sources of inspiration for science and the arts. Their number varied throughout history, but I chose the classical nine to appear in my novel blending Greek mythology with ancient history, Fate’s Door.

The Muses Clio, Euterpe, and Thalia by Eustache Le SueurCalliopethe muse of epic poetry and eloquence, with her symbols of stylus, writing tablet, and lyre. Epic poems were long, recited narratives on serious subjects, describing heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or city-state. Epic poetry possessed greater status than other types of poetry.

Cliothe muse of history, with her symbols of scroll and tablet.

Euterpethe muse of music, song, and elegiac poetry, with the aulos (similar to a flute) as her symbol. In ancient times, elegy was always sung and accompanied by the music of the aulos. It required a specific rhythm and form, but was not limited to lament in content, as it is today. Elegiac poetry was always sung and accompanied by flute music.

Polyhymnia by Giuseppe FagnaniEratomuse of lyric poetry, with the cithara (similar to the lyre) as her symbol. Lyric poetry expressed personal emotions and was in the first person, I. Lyric poetry was always sung and accompanied by strummed music.

Melpomenethe muse of tragedy, with her symbols of tragic mask, sword, club, and boots.

Polyhymniathe muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn, sacred dance, meditation, and geometry, with her symbols of veil and grapes.

Terpsichorethe muse of dance, with her symbols of the lyre and plectrum, played for dancing.

The Muses Melpomene, Thalia, and Polyhymnia by Eustache Le SueurThaliathe muse of comedy and idyllic poetry, with her symbols of comic mask, bugle, trumpet, shepherd’s crook, and ivy wreath. Idyllic poems were short descriptions of the small, intimate world of personal experience.

Uraniathe muse of astronomy, with her symbols of globe and rod.

One of the scenes I cut from Fate’s Door features the continuous “party of the arts” which is life with the muses on Mount Helicon. Anippe, the youngest sister of my protagonist Nerine, tends the spring of inspiration patronized by the muses, and thus serves as an inspiration to inspiration. 😀

The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet

19 ~ Agnippe and the Muses

Later in the day, when Nerine met the muses, she discovered they were just as impressive as the gods of Olympus, but in a very different way.

She’d donned her long green silk gown again – dry from hanging on a rose bush in the sunlight – and Agnippe had changed from her belt and pectoral to a knee-length gown of rose silk. She carried a tray bearing a ewer of spring water and nine chalices of varying design.

The muses were gathered on the stage of an intimate amphitheater, with stone seating cut into the mountain, and a simple colonnade as a backdrop. Euterpe, the Muse of Song, stood on a pedestal singing. She wore a long, draping gown of marigold yellow, and her honey-hued hair was elaborately braided and pinned.

But Nerine, entering the stage from one side with Agnippe, barely noticed the charming picture before her. Euterpe’s voice soared, golden and mellow in its lower notes, silver and sweet in the higher ones.

Nerine felt the world turn within her, deep in her heart, while the sky shivered into rainbow streamers, as though the whole of creation sang.

She returned to herself only when Euterpe ceased her song.

The gathered muses – some leaning against the pillars of the colonnade, a few seated on the stage flagstones, others clustered around Euterpe – signified their approval in differing ways according to their natures.

Only one clapped her hands together and laughed: a blonde garbed in a rose slightly lighter than that Agnippe wore. Might she be Thalia, the Muse of Comedy?

An aqua-gowned muse wiped tears of joy from her cheeks. A lilac muse gazed raptly at the sky. The Muse of Astronomy? And a peach muse circled Euterpe in graceful dance steps.

All of them exuded the glory that imbued their arts – a nimbus of exaltation and brightness that quickened the pulse and flushed the cheek. Nerine felt more overborne by it than she had by the potency cloaking the greater gods. If Hera were a spring tide – massive and inexorable – then the muses were a fountain bursting from the earth in joy and abandon.

Euterpe, the golden singer, caught sight of Agnippe and Nerine first. She leaped lightly down from her pedestal, exclaiming. “Sisters! The bearer of our inspiration approaches!”

Her quick steps toward them were graceful enough to be a dance, and her sister muses streamed after her, all of them clustering around Agnippe and speaking at once.

“What draught have you now for us?”

“Is this the Nerine you have spoken of?”

“Hidden in the daybreak by Helios, the great Karkinos ascends, blessing all who travel north!”

“Nerine” – the peach muse grabbed Nerine’s hand – “you look born to perform the pidiktos, the leaping dance! May I teach you?”

“Introduce us!” chimed a muse in pale green.

Agnippe laughed and passed through the throng, drawing Nerine and the peach muse with her, to the pedestal abandoned by the singer Euterpe. She set down her tray there and began pouring from the ewer into the various chalices, using a different grip on the ewer’s handles for each to produce different shapes in the stream of water.

“The silent wisdom of the Karkinos for you, Urania.” A silver chalice set with amethysts went to the lilac-gowned muse.

“A new melody for you, Euterpe!” In a golden chalice adorned by topazes.

“A variant rhythm for you, Terpsichore.” The peach-garbed muse holding Nerine’s hand received a copper chalice, shaped to resemble an opening bud.

The blended voices of the muses sounded like the ripple of a musical brook, but their speech quieted as each received her cup from Agnippe and sipped.

Into the growing silence Agnippe presented Nerine. “Please welcome Nerine Merenou Pelagieus, my sister and my friend. She has traveled from the heart of the Middle Sea and has yet farther to go.”

Each of the muses paused in her sipping to raise her chalice in her own characteristic way – overhead, subtly tilted, to eye level, and so on – and spoke a blessing.

“Be at home, here and in yourself.”

“May you seek inspiration each morning and find delight as the sun sets.”

“Remember to laugh!”

“It is well to journey north under the ascendance of the Karkinos.” That was the lilac-gowned muse again. Her preoccupation with the zodiac must mean she was the Muse of Astronomy, guessed Nerine.

As the afternoon blended into the golden light of a summer evening, Nerine decided that the muses threw a much better party than the gods. Not that this was truly a party. It seemed to be the natural order of life on Mount Helicon.

Formality was entirely absent, one activity flowing into another without plan or pomp, according to chance and what caught the muses’ fancy.

They sang roundels under golden Euterpe’s guidance and then engaged in impromptu comedic drama with rosy Thalia. Nerine found herself singing in parts with neither worry nor trouble, and then devising a sequence of slapstick humor.

Terpsichore – the peach one – led them to the meadow beyond the topmost tier of the amphitheater to dance, and Nerine found herself performing the leaping pidiktos, as promised, with only one stumble when she forgot – in mid-air – that she was not suspended in water. Then Polyhymnia called for an interval of meditation before a hymn.

As the sky deepened from rich turquoise to a deep cobalt which seemed to reach beyond the edge of the earthly sphere, a light breeze sprang up. Nerine found herself walking through a birch forest – its leaves arustle with the moving airs – beside Clio, the Muse of History, and chatting with her as though to a lifelong friend.

“You’ll have such opportunities as you travel north,” said Clio seriously. “The customs of the Keltoi and the Gutones are very strange, quite different from those of the Hellenes. Request papyrus and ink from Lord Hermes that you may record the marvels you see!”

A pang of grief and loss shot through Nerine’s breast. Just so had Altairos promised to record all the experiences of his travels, but she had curtailed his chance to share them with her. Should she now compile a similar history that she would never share with him? Perhaps the symmetry of it would balance . . . something.

When she emerged from the birch grove, the stars shone in the deepening sky, and Urania had arranged a cluster of spyglasses that the muses and their guest might view the planet Hesperus at the peak of its splendor, gleaming like a teardrop kindled by fire.

As Nerine withdrew her eye from her spyglass, the shepherd youths who had greeted her upon her descent from the pegasus were present again, spreading tapestries over the meadow grasses, and serving supper.

The scent of crushed grass mingled with the savory aromas of roast lamb and the lighter fragrances of berries.

More vignettes of culture – an epic poem, a tragic drama – followed the meal. Nerine participated as before, comfortable and welcomed, but she found a sliver of her attention pursuing her sister. Agnippe was radiant, partaking of everything, but also consulted by the muses. Might this arpeggio be better if extended another beat? Would that rhyme be more effective if moved to the middle of the line rather than falling at the end?

Agnippe filled her post on Helicon just as surely, just as joyously, as Eilidh occupied hers on Olympus.

Nerine gave herself over to happiness for a time. Enjoying the rapture of the night, and enjoying the awareness that two of her sisters were happy. Life could bring gifts to those who were open to them. Good fortune might yet bless her too. But she wouldn’t think about herself tonight. She would be here and now, beguiled by the moment and rejoicing for Eilidh and Agnippe.

Despite her focus on her sisters, she’d gotten herself back, she realized. The sense of self she’d lost on Olympus had returned here on Helicon.

She was wholly Nerine again, inside and out. The Nerine who loved her youngest sister. The Nerine who loved new things and new places and meeting new people.

That Nerine was back and it felt as glorious as Euterpe’s song, as Terpsichore’s dance, as Urania’s star gazing.

It was wonderful to be herself again.

But had she lost something else in the reclaiming of herself?

What had she lost? For she had lost something.

A softening – like a mist – rose up behind her, obscuring all that was neither Olympus nor Helicon. Her past seemed as far away in time as the reef palace was in distance. Had she really dwelt all her life in the Middle Sea? Traveled only so far as Duke Thiago’s palace in the Gulf of Gallicus? Gone ashore only on the isle of Lapadoússa?

It seemed a dream, not a history, and it had happened to someone other than her.

Had she really met and fallen in love with a prince of Zakynthos and then renounced him? A stab of pain through her heart assured her that she had.

But the sense of detachment piling up around her memories draped a veil over them, lessening their immediacy. For now, she was not Nerine of the Middle Sea, but Nerine of Helicon. And being Nerine of Helicon was delightful.

Later in the night, she found herself with Agnippe, curled on a pile of softest fleece under an arching trellis covered with blooming honeysuckle. The sweet, sweet scent of the vines drenched her, and the darkness wrapped her round as gently as water from a warm spring.

“Is it always like this?” Nerine murmured.

Agnippe chuckled. “Nearly always. Some days the work is more like work. When Calliope cannot settle on the right meter for her epic nor Melpomene devise the right dramatic beat for her tragedy. But work more usually masquerades as play, and the play is the work.”

“I wish I could stay here,” said Nerine. Except she didn’t. Not truly. “I wish I could be you. Or one of them.” That she did wish, but knew – in spite of the wish – that she would be less than herself, if her wish could become reality.

Agnippe shifted on her portion of the fleece cushioning. “No, you don’t.”

“This afternoon and this evening have been . . . magical.” Nerine felt drowsy and hyper aware at the same time. Did the arts always produce an altered state? Perhaps only when the muses performed.

Agnippe found Nerine’s hand and clasped it loosely in hers. “The magic of the muses is extraordinary, but you have your own magic, Nerine. And you won’t develop it here. I think you are right to go to the norns. I think . . . you will be surprised by what awaits you there.”

Unease threaded Nerine’s contentment. “Do you know something I do not?” she asked.

“I know nothing,” said Agnippe, “but I have an intuition that it will all be different than what you expect, and that the difference is exactly what you need. Even though I don’t know what you need, and you don’t know what you need – just like Xianthe – it will come to you.” Agnippe’s voice was a mere breath, soft and low. “Or you are going to it.

The late moon, very full, rose above the shadowy treeline edging the glade around the trellis. Dapples of moonlight peeped through the honeysuckle, speckling Nerine, her sister, and the fleeces beneath them. A breeze moved the leaves and the pattern of moonshine. The heavy fragrance of the flowers – almost too sweet – lightened.

“Still no word from Xianthe?” asked Agnippe.

Nerine refused to be worried in this haven of peace. Eilidh and Agnippe had come home to themselves. The promise of the same – or something even more astonishing – awaited Nerine. Surely Xianthe would find her way too.

“No word,” said Nerine. “But the fates spin her thread as surely as they spin ours.”

Agnippe laughed, soft and clear. “And you go to the fates. Perhaps you will spin Xianthe’s homecoming.”

Perhaps she would.

*     *     *

Bidding Agnippe farewell the next morning was both harder and easier than Nerine expected.

She’d loved her brief stay on Helicon. Loved it! The muses were delightful, and their idea of fun was actually fun. But she sensed that the arts were not really the home her spirit sought. She might be distracted by bliss, if she were to live here, but she would not find the deeper anchoring that meant more to her.

She could leave Mount Helicon quite calmly.

But Agnippe! Oh!

Her sister had resumed belt and pectoral – this set fashioned of linked plates of swirling green malachite – because she would be tending the sacred spring after Nerine’s departure. She was a slim sylph of a girl, with the modest curves of the almost-fifteen that she was, but with strength in her carriage.

Her face showed a curious mix of emotion – lips trembling in her sadness at parting from Nerine, green eyes serene with her confidence in Nerine’s future and lit with the excitement that working in her spring brought.

Nerine hugged her convulsively. She would not see Agnippe for years. Five years? Ten years? Agnippe would be all grown up when Nerine visited her next. Would they still know one another?

“We’ll always be sisters,” Agnippe whispered, “always friends. You will know me, and I, you.”

Nerine relinquished her hold on her sister enough to see her eyes. How was it that Agnippe often seemed to read her mind? Nerine studied Agnippe’s face. Agnippe knew how to trust both herself and her future.

Agnippe’s trust would have to be enough for Nerine too, because Nerine . . . had no trust in herself at this moment.

“I love you,” Nerine said.

Agnippe smiled. “I love you too.”

And then Nerine was following the shepherd boys down the mountain to the meadow where she would mount the pegasus.

She looked back once.

Agnippe stood in the distance at the top of the slope, very straight, the sun turning her long green-blond hair to gold. She raised her arm in farewell. Nerine returned the gesture and turned away, rounding a bend in the path that removed Agnippe from sight.

Nerine drew in a shaky breath.

*     *     *

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)

 

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Nerine’s Youngest Sister

Fate's Door, web cover 200I cut four chapters from the middle of Fate’s Door.

It was a lot of fun hanging around on Mount Olympus with Nerine and her eldest sister Eilidh. It was even more fun joining Nerine and her youngest sister Agnippe on Mount Helicon.

But I was indulging myself. All that loitering with the Greek gods brought my story to a near stop. So I reduced those chapters to a series of brief vignettes.

But I suspect some of my readers might enjoy dallying within Greek mythology as much as I do.

For those of you who share that taste of mine, here is a part of chapter 19 that was cut from the final manuscript. 😀

19 ~ Agnippe and Mount Helicon

Amidst the chattering opulence of Hera’s handmaidens Nerine possessed neither intimacy nor solitude. And she’d never hankered for luxury.

Groups and clusters seemed the natural mode of the handmaidens. They never walked alone or even in pairs.

All except one.

That one loner was a brunette who wore her hair in a simple braid circling her head, and who chose gowns of pale gray or pastel blue rather than the popular variations on white. When the handmaidens gathered to brush one another’s hair, the brunette sought the fountain shrine to bathe alone. If the handmaidens danced in the meadow, she walked the forest paths. Alone.

Nerine was reluctant to interrupt her solitude. Nor was she certain she wanted to draw attention to her by asking someone. But she was curious about this young woman who didn’t seem to fit in. Why was she on Mount Olympus? What was her role?

Before Nerine could learn much, Eilidh suggested a visit to Agnippe.

“You’re so close,” she said. “What a shame to miss the chance!”

Nerine hadn’t realized Mount Helicon rose nearby. Was her knowledge of Hellene geography so poor? No, she’d forgotten that the winged horses brought locations closer. The ten-day trek to the glades of the muses would be a mere morning’s flight aback a pegasus.

The valleys around Mount Helicon were less wild than the ridges around Mount Olympus – featuring olive groves – and the snow was gone from its peak.

Nerine alit amidst grasses on the mountain skirts, where a group of youths wearing sheepskins slung over one shoulder awaited her. Were they shepherds from the local village?

“Welcome, numen!” said their spokesman. “We shall guide you to the sacred spring.”

This was the first evidence she’d seen of direct contact – rather than spiritual connection – between mortal and divine. The young men clearly knew their way, leading her through bushy laurel trees and tall elms. They spoke in a dialect unfamiliar to her, and cleared fallen twigs from the path as they walked.

The sacred spring issued from a cleft in a low cliff to fill a pool, rushes growing in its shallows, and ringed by crab apple trees and wild roses. The water was very clear, with dancing dapples cast by its motion across the spring bottom.

As Nerine approached, Agnippe rose from the depths to stand amidst the rushes – slender and girlish; not yet entered into full womanhood – water streaming from her pale skin. She wore a belt and pectoral fashioned from small plates of nacre, and the sun lit rainbows in their gleaming surfaces. Her tightly curled blonde hair had grown to hang past her hips. She was luminously beautiful.

The shepherd boys faded away, leaving Nerine alone with her sister.

Agnippe didn’t hesitate – despite her dampness. She leapt to the spring bank to wrap Nerine in glad arms.

“Nerine! Nerine! Oh, Nerine!”

Nerine burst into tears. Seeing Agnippe after so long, feeling Agnippe’s embrace – it overwhelmed her.

“I’ve missed you,” gasped Nerine. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Agnippe laughed tearily. “I’ve got your gown wet. I’m sorry.”

“Can I see your spring? Is it permitted, or–?” Or was only the spring’s guardian allowed to enter the water. Nerine had a sudden longing to be underwater with her sister as though they were both at home in the reef together.

Agnippe waved one hand in a gesture of welcome and smiled, dashing the tears from her cheeks. “Only my permission is needed, and you have it. Come in!”

Nerine slipped out of her gown and entered the water bare, as though she were a little girl, needing no garb save her own skin. The spring was very cold, with that strange edge to it that fresh water possessed, although this felt mellower than the fountain on Mount Olympus.

Minnows darted amongst the rushes in the shallows. A frog hopped, splashing.

The water deepened, and Nerine submerged. Her spiracles opened, and she could taste the spring: sweet and refreshing and with a slight mineral tang that appealed. Agnippe appeared by her side.

“Do you like it? Can you tolerate the freshwater?” She looked anxious.

“It’s lovely. I love it!” Nerine reassured her.

Agnippe wanted to show her everything about her diminutive domain.

The flag lilies growing on the far bank, the gleaming snails, the water-smoothed pebbles, the swimming trout, the crayfish and – best of all – the underwater cave that stretched back under the cliff, with twisting passages and varied chambers. In one, a torrent from the heart of the mountain turned the water frothy with bubbles. In another, a cleft in the rock admitted a shaft of strong sunlight, striking sparkles of gold and silver from the surrounding stone.

Agnippe’s possessions from home occupied the inmost chamber.

Nerine couldn’t help admiring Agnippe’s underwater mansion, but she was relieved when they returned to the outside pool and could see the sky again, its warm blue fractured by the moving surface of the spring above them. The darting fish made the pool feel lively, friendlier, than the cool beauty of the caves.

“Do you stay in the water all the time?” asked Nerine. She’d imagined Agnippe on land, surrounded by the muses, with only brief sojourns in the spring. Why else would Agnippe have required a trousseau as extensive as Eilidh’s?

“Of course not!” Agnippe sounded surprised. She started to explain, then stopped and took Nerine’s hand. “Nerine . . . I don’t want to pry –” she looked younger than she had when Nerine first set eyes on her sister emerging from the water, and her voice sounded uncertain – “but, what are you doing here? I mean –” her voice strengthened – “it’s lovely to see you, but you aren’t just visiting me, are you? You’re traveling far into the north with the intent to stay.”

Agnippe drifted forward to kiss Nerine’s cheek. “I want you to be as happy as I am.”

Uneasiness stirred in Nerine’s belly. How could she explain her decision to her sister? She couldn’t bear to rehash the events that had led up to it. She didn’t want to simply shut Agnippe out by not answering at all. She refused to lie.

Sighing, she attempted to gather her thoughts. “You felt a real calling to be guardian of this spring of inspiration, didn’t you?”

Agnippe nodded.

“And I know Eilidh longed to join Queen Hera’s entourage,” Nerine continued. “She seems . . . more certain, more . . . anchored than I’ve ever known her to be. Have you seen her? Since you settled here?”

“She’s who she was meant to be, I think,” agreed Agnippe.

“Yes, that’s it exactly.” Nerine sighed again. “I think that’s what you were hoping for me. Am I right?”

Agnippe’s face looked very solemn, but she didn’t speak.

“And you fear I am making a mistake.” Nerine squeezed Agnippe’s hand.

“Are you?” Agnippe’s voice was very low.

“I might be, but I don’t think so. I don’t feel the same kind of calling that you and Eilidh feel. Or Tyr.” Their brother definitely loved his Tyrrhenian Sea, loved caring for it, loved living in it. “But waiting at home to figure it out . . . wasn’t working for me. I had to leave!” That burst out of her more strongly than she’d meant it to.

“But why Scandia?” Now Agnippe sounded upset. “I’ll never see you! And what will you do, if you discover your true calling – something other than weaving – once you’re there? You’ll be stuck!”

Nerine wasn’t sure which of those concerns to address first.

“I won’t be stuck,” she insisted. “How would the norns be seeking a handmaiden unless the previous one had left?”

“You’re going to them without making a real commitment?” Agnippe sounded shocked, no doubt because her own commitment to her spring had been so immediate and intense.

“I don’t go lightly,” Nerine contended. “I shall learn all that they need me to, that I may fulfill my duties well. I shall give them the best that is in me. And I have some skill with textiles already.”

Agnippe’s brow wrinkled. “But . . .”

Nerine swirled her right foot in the cool water. “Eilidh is everything a handmaiden is meant to be, but some of the others . . . are not. Some are too intimidated by the divine presence. Some are there on Olympus for what they can gain for themselves. Some . . . may grow into their roles. But I doubt that all of them will stay to attend on Hera forever. Even our sister may one day wish for something different.”

“That’s true,” Agnippe assented. “But it’s a little different, isn’t it? Queen Hera must have more than three dozen handmaidens. The norns . . .”

“. . . will just have me,” finished Nerine.

Agnippe snorted. “You’ll never be a ‘just’ anything,” she said.

Nerine laughed. “Why, thank you!”

They hung in the water, silent for a moment, the golden dapples on the spring’s floor shifting below them.

“I see your point,” Nerine admitted. “I know nålbindning and embroidery. I am proficient with a ground loom.” She glanced at her sister. Was she revealing too much? Would Agnippe follow up with awkward questions?

No, Agnippe was merely listening – intently – interested in where Nerine was going with this, not worrying about details such as how her sister had learned to use a ground loom.

“I am careful and neat. But the norns will be teaching me . . . more than I can well imagine.” She shook her head. Weaving was one thing. Weaving fate? Something wholly beyond her experience. “If I were going to them with the intention to leave, I would be wronging them. But, Agnippe” – her voice cracked, ever so slightly – “I don’t think I will sort myself out for . . . years. If ever.”

Sudden strain shadowed Agnippe’s eyes.

“I believe I’ll be in Scandia for . . . quite some time.” Nerine squeezed Agnippe’s hand – still in hers – again. She hated to see her sister looking so worried for her and injected a jolly tone to her words. “I promise I’ll come visit you! And . . .” more seriously “. . . I do think that weaving fate with the norns is right for me. For now, even if not for ever.”

Agnippe nodded more slowly. “I think I see,” she said. “I just wish . . . you had an easier current to swim.”

Nerine sighed again, then became brisk. “So do I!”

They laughed together.

It was good – so good – to understand and be understood, to connect at depth with a friend – who also happened to be a sister.

* * *

To purchase and read Fate’s Door: Amazon

For another chapter cut from Fate’s Door, Eilidh and the Olympians, see:
Update on Fate’s Door

 

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Update on Fate’s Door

Fate's Door, web cover 200My second reader gave me feedback on Fate’s Door this Monday, and I am now in the final round of revision. I’m excited!

Both my first reader and second reader are fantastic. They see any problem areas that escape my perception, and often have great suggestions for how to fix them. All my books are better, because of their contributions.

Each had kind words to say about Fate’s Door, and my second reader waxed lyrical about how good the ending made her feel.

I estimate that my revsions will take me 3 weeks. Proofreading will take another week. And then I’ll be uploading the files to Amazon. Woot woot! 😀

I’m aware, of course, that I originally named September as my release month. (For Fate’s Door and my other four upcoming books.) And then I thought October was likely.

Now October has arrived, and I’m aiming for November.

The difference between the previous estimates and this one is that the remaining tasks are all under my control. When I’m waiting on my kind readers – who are generous volunteers, after all – I must respect the fact that they have their own full lives, into which they wedge the beta reading of my books. Which means there is some degree of uncertainty as to when I’ll receive their feedback.

Since I write full time, I can now pound from dawn to dusk, galloping toward the finish line.

Among myriad other revisions, I’ve cut four chapters from the middle of the book. I love the scenes in them, but they possess too little action and slow the pace of the story in a place where the pace needs to be brisk. So out they go. Fate’s Door will be better without them.

However, I think that some of you who frequent my blog might enjoy them as vignettes from Nerine’s world, so I’m going to follow in other writers’ footsteps and share some of the cut chapters here.

I’ll need to review the cut material for spoilers, but the old chapter 18 doesn’t have any.

Eilidh is Nerine’s bossy elder sister.

18 ~ Eilidh and the Olympians

After nearly two déka-days of travel beneath the sea, they arrived at Thérma and went ashore, a little to the south of the port of the land people.

The water of the lagoon where they tethered the chariot was very still, and the strip of sand, between the water and the glade of arbutus and olive trees, very narrow.

The moment Nerine and her escort breached the air, the sweet sounds of pipes, backed by the beat of drums and the murmur of strings, met them.

Nymphs danced across dappled grass to greet them and draw them toward a festal table, laden with tureens of berries, platters of cakes, and carafes of wine.

“Welcome! Welcome!” called their hosts.

Nerine was not permitted to feed herself. The merry crowd popped morsels into her mouth as first one and then another twirled by her. Then she was drawn into the dance and passed from one laughing maiden to another. She never managed to distinguish one individual from another – they were all white-frocked and curly-tressed and constantly in motion. When Nerine eventually came to rest, they garbed her in one of the gowns of her trousseau – of aqua silk, with many draping folds – and led her away to a clearing where a winged horse awaited her, chafing and stamping.

She was allowed a mere moment to bid the sea warriors farewell before the nymphs boosted her onto the pegasus’ back, one of them climbing up behind her.

“Grab his mane,” instructed the nymph.

Nerine grabbed. The horse hairs felt almost silken against her palms and fingers, but they were very strong, and not slippery.

The downsweep of their steed’s wings sounded thunderous in her ears, drowning the ever-playing music. Her spine compressed as the creature leaped into the air. Then they were aloft, and it was magical, more amazing than the time she’d climbed the stairs to the top of the beacon tower on Altairos’ island.

The pegasus flew far higher, circling up and up, so that she could see the canopy of the green woodland stretching away below, and the land dwellers’ city at its edge to the north, strange and different, with fluted columns and triangular pediments and double-slanting roofs.

The air was all about her, like water, but more invigorating, the sun dazzling her eyes. She felt breathless and wondered if she should worry about falling, but her steed’s back was very broad and secure, and the nymph behind her had wrapped steadying arms around Nerine’s waist.

She gave herself over to the wonder of traveling the sky. Was this why Lord Zeus had chosen to rule the airs above the ground, when he and his brothers divided the world between them?

In the distance, a vast mountain rose, its slopes green and steep, its rocky peak gleaming with snow. Mount Olympus, the seat of the gods themselves. Nerine could hardly believe that she would be a guest there. It had always seemed a far-off reality that bided on the fringes of her experience, never destined to come closer, certainly never to approach her very center. But here she was.

The pegasus soared at a tremendous speed, although the winds seemed to part for it, never tousling Nerine’s hair. And the mountain slope drew rapidly nearer, the peak towering far overhead, its skirts plunging far below.

They landed in a cup of flower-strewn meadow just below the rocky cliffs of the peak, greeted by yet more white-clad maidens, although these were more stately than the nymphs in the celebration by the shore.

When Nerine caught sight of her eldest sister – Eilidh – she realized that these were Queen Hera’s handmaidens, and that she had been granted great honor.

Eilidh came forward first, her white gown glinting with threads of silver, and a tiara of pearls in the complicated braids and swirls of her pinned-up blond hair. She looked even more grand than when she’d departed home, with more dignity in her carriage, a loftier tilt to her chin.

Nerine prepared herself to withstand her sister’s airs and graces. This wasn’t home. She couldn’t be rude when Eilidh was condescending.

But Eilidh was not condescending.

Her face held genuine pleasure, and her embrace felt sincere.

“Queen Hera bids you welcome and invites you to enjoy the hospitality of her abode, whilst the preparations for your journey to Scandia move toward their completion,” said Eilidh. The words were formal – likely had to be, under the circumstances – but her tone was warm.

Apparently Eilidh had been changed, and for the better, by her sojourn under Hera’s rule.

She introduced Nerine to her companion handmaidens – Akráia, Argéia, and so on – but there were too many and Nerine lost the names almost as soon as Eilidh spoke them.

“You must be tired, dear sister,” said Eilidh. “It is a long journey from Pelagie to Olympus. Let us attend to you and soothe your cares and aches.” She linked her arm through Nerine’s and guided her into the trees at the edge of the meadow and along a winding path, the handmaidens following behind them.

Nerine was not tired, still exhilarated by her ride through the sky, but she was willing to fall in with whatever plans had been made for her.

A cool breeze rustled the leaves above, and the clear clean scents of northern flowers rose from mossy ground between the tree trunks, so different from the warmer dusty, musky aromas of Pelagie.

After a short walk, they arrived at a circular shrine set in amongst the trees. Two shallow steps led up to a low dais where fluted columns upheld the domed roof. Within, carved screens surrounded a center fountain.

The handmaidens pinned Nerine’s hair to her head, removed her gown, and led her into the fountain to bathe.

The water felt strange on her skin, cool and almost too pure, with an edge to its purity.

It must be fresh water, not salt, she realized.

When she emerged from the bath, the handmaidens smoothed unguents perfumed with wild cucumber – a mild, bracing scent – into her skin and brought yet another gown, this one of pale green silk, to clothe her.

They guided her to a square shrine at the end of another forest path. No screens sequestered its heart within the surrounding columns, and Nerine could see divans and low tables scattered upon rich carpets. Eilidh awaited her there, insisting that she recline while another handmaiden brushed Nerine’s hair, and a third offered her rose-infused water to drink.

Nerine accepted a few sips of the infusion, enjoying its lovely and light flavor, but then insisted that she needed nothing more to eat or drink. There had been plenty at the party on the shore. The handmaiden with the brush and comb was very gentle, and the sensation of the implements against the few tangles in Nerine’s curly tresses, pleasant.

Eilidh, perched gracefully on a low stool beside Nerine’s divan, chattered about life in Hera’s cortege. It seemed to consist of welcoming a constant stream of visitors, serving as a subsidiary host at the many feasts, amusing Hera herself with song or poetry or dancing, and occasionally running errands for her.

It sounded repetitious to Nerine, and lacking in solitude, but Eilidh seemed to like it.

Eilidh did ask Nerine to tell her all about events at home and about Nerine’s decision to accept a position with the norns, but Eilidh’s habits were against her. Despite her sister’s real interest in Nerine’s answers, she didn’t have much practice in listening.

The handmaiden with the rosewater took over the conversation, asking Nerine questions and listening attentively.

There wasn’t really much to say about events at home, and Nerine had no intention of sharing her private tragedy, but the handmaiden was intrigued by Nerine’s accounts of nålbindning knitting. She persuaded her to demonstrate the skill, using a beautiful peach-hued silk yarn.

At the evening feast, Nerine saw more clearly how well her sister fit into her setting.

*     *     *

The banquet was held in a large temple on a rocky ridge above the trees. The building was structured in the way that Nerine was learning was typical amongst the Olympians: a low plinth reached by three shallow steps, with fluted columns set in far enough to create a surrounding walkway. The rectangular shape seemed far more common than the round one of the shrine where she had bathed, or the square one where she had rested.

The banquet hall was not only rectangular, but huge! Perhaps as large as the entire central court of King Zeron’s palace. Stone walls sheltered the space within the columns, but its many doors stood open, providing magnificent views over the nearby ridges as the sun set.

Nine of the greatest Olympians occupied their magnificent divans, but Nerine – attending under Hera’s aegis – was presented only to Queen Hera.

Queen Hera’s divan, elevated on a low dais, was fashioned of scented applewood and adorned with peacock feathers, the metallic blues and greens of their eyes glinting in the light of the many oil lamps. The queen herself did not recline, but sat erect when Eilidh drew Nerine forward.

Hera’s gown of garnet silk embroidered with gold lilies complemented her statuesque beauty, but it was her immense presence – like the majesty that hung around King Zeron, but far, far greater – that made Nerine’s knees tremble as she executed a land person’s bow.

Hera merely nodded her acknowledgement and addressed the cupbearer offering her cherries. Her voice was low and sweet.

Eilidh guided Nerine to a divan in those clustered around the dais, seated her, and returned to the queen’s side.

Cupbearers served Nerine – the delicacies prepared for the tables of the gods were exceptional, perfectly toasted meringues, stained “glass” panes made of crystallized honey, and so on – but Nerine’s focus remained on her sister.

Eilidh conversed with Queen Hera. She delivered a particularly succulent apricot half from Hera to Lord Zeus. She played the lyre at the queen’s request. She circulated amongst Hera’s guests, even returning to Nerine for an interval to converse about the special bond between the pegasi and the muses.

Eilidh performed all her duties flawlessly, but that was not what riveted Nerine’ s attention. It was Eilidh’s demeanor. At home in the reef palace, Eilidh’s haughtiness had annoyed Nerine nearly every day. It had seemed conceited and pretentious.

On Mount Olympus – with nine of the greater gods looking on, each of whom bore the astounding majesty that mantled Hera, a few sustaining even weightier potency – Eilidh’s pride looked very different.

It wasn’t pride, Nerine realized.

It had transmuted into self-respect.

And not all of Hera’s handmaidens possessed enough. One blushed furiously whenever Hera’s attention fell on her. Another giggled too often. Yet another angled for the divine attention, hoping to curry favor.

Eilidh’s demeanor was perfect, conveying reverence for the great beings she served, while yet reserving recognition for her own worth.

And that was why Eilidh could now greet her once-disdained sister with genuine warmth. Eilidh lived in circumstances which both fed and demanded dignity, and thus no longer needed to exercise her talents inappropriately.

Eilidh truly had found home.

* * *

 

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