by CJ Reddick
Stories featuring supernatural happenings: "Love's Labor," "Discord," and "Blind."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is based upon the legends surrounding Oedipus and his children. For more information about the backstory to this specific story, go here (it's not long I promise). Also a few pronunciation guides have been added, for your convenience.
The rain poured and the sky rumbled, warning her of the dangerous path ahead of her. It was as if Zeus himself was urging her to turn back. Yet, she refused.
The peasant that had been in front of her emerged from the cave. She looked at him expectantly, eyebrows raised. Light conversation had revealed he was asking the Oracle if this next season would be bountiful. The peasant lowered his head and shook a no. Ismene pursed her lips, making a mental note to send him enough food to get his family of ten through the apparent famine.
“You’re next, honey cake.”
Ismene whirled to the Delphian guard and glared, blue eyes blazing. “Excuse me?”
“You’re next. Although, between you and me,” he leaned closer “I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be getting a husband anytime soon. However,” he looked her up and down, “if you’re willing to stay until I am relieved of my duty, I can take care of that pesky virginity for you.”
She had to resist the urge to smack him, stand straight up, rip off her cloak, declare herself a princess of Thebes, and order his execution. But, rude swine or no, her purpose must remain secret.
“Never,” she spat, and shoved past him into the cave.
The shelter from the rain was a welcome relief. The cave did not smell pleasant, though. Ismene resist the urge to pinch her nose in disgust. No wonder royalty never came here! This place was horrible!
After what felt like hours of walking, she came to the source of the foul smell. The cave opened into a chamber, with a large crack in the floor. Fumes wafted from the bowels of Gaea and filled the chamber. And, upon the fabled tripod balanced over the crack, sat the fabled Oracle.
Remembering the proper ceremonies, Ismene knelt. “I come before the god of truth, the great Phoebus Apollo, and his beautiful prophetess, and beseech them to answer me what I ask. I, a mere mortal, bow and beg.”
The Oracle cackled. “And what is your name, sweetie?”
Ismene tipped her head up. “I am Phoebe.”
The Oracle cackled again. “Phoebe, no doubt named for your bright beautiful locks.”
I blushed a little bit. “Yes, I have been told I was a radiant child.”
“But, of course, growing up in a palace, one would expect such beautiful, well-kept hair.”
“Yes, of course. Wait!” Ismene groaned and sat up.
The Oracle cackled a third time. “Sweetie, I knew who you were the moment you stepped in the cave. Apollo sees all, and he tells me all. Now, why would you hide your true identity?”
Ismene looked down. “If you know all than surely you know that royalty are not to visit the oracle.”
“Ah, yes. It’s been ages since someone with the blood of the gods came to visit. Now, what is it you would like to know, princess of Thebes?”
“I think you know, but I shall tell you anyway. Surely you know of my accursed existence.”
“Yes, I was the one who issued the prophecy regarding your father to your grandfather. What a mess! Do you find it ironic that your father would’ve never married your mother, or rather, his mother, had his father not tried to avoid the prophecy? And if he himself had not tried to avoid the prophecy, he would’ve never met Jocasta, and never married her? Oh, the irony!”
The Oracle lost herself in a fit of laughter and Ismene clenched her fists.
“Oh, my child, but that’s not why you’re here, is it? Good thing too, as I cannot change the past. What is it you desire?”
“You know of what happened to my siblings.”
“Ah, yes, the bickering brothers and the selfless sister. As opposed to the selfish sister.”
Tears welled in Ismene’s eyes as the Oracle continued.
“Oh, yes, your sister knew what to do, didn’t she? No one, no one is to be denied the last rites! Your fool of an uncle should’ve known that. But he didn’t, did he? And now he is bereft of not only his nephews, but his niece, his son, and his wife! Left only with you, the sister who refused to stand.”
“I speak the truth! The truth is harsh. But, your sister is dead, killed herself rather than living in that cave in the ground! Child, I cannot change the past, and I cannot kill! What do you want me to do?”
Ismene jerked a fist across her face, wiping away the tears. “There is one who goes back and forth between the realms of the living and dead.”
“Thanatos. You would seek Death himself?”
“Even gods can be bound and controlled. You know what controls him.”
“True, I do. But, be warned, the living who journey to the Underworld rarely return. And even more rarely do they return with what or whom they desired. Turn back now. Return to your uncle and take comfort in each other. The path you seek will only lead to heartbreak.”
“Tell. Me. NOW!”
The Oracle sighed. “As you wish.”
She closed her eyes and hummed a strange tune, inhaling the vapors of the vent deeply.
“Oh, yes, Thanatos can be bound. Not by chains, not by some spell, no. Thanatos, like most creatures, can be bound by love.”
The Oracle opened her eyes. “You think the god of death cannot fall in love? He does have his own soul. Yes, Death can fall in love. And he did. Her name was . He loved her more than anything, but, alas, she was mortal! She grew old, and he did not. But theirs was an eternal love. When it came time for him to take her, he could not do it. Aphrodite looked down on him with pity, knowing that as a human Petalouda would never survive. But she could not bear to see Thanatos, who rarely loves mortals, as he must take them all eventually, in such pain. And so, Aphrodite transformed Petalouda into the first butterfly, an immortal butterfly. She became Thanatos’s constant companion, teaching dead souls how to fly with Thanatos to the Underworld. And all butterflies, of course, are their children. Thanatos has no such care for these children. How can he? They are easily squashed. But the first one, Petalouda, if you can catch her, Thanatos will do anything to get her back.”
“I thought you said Petalouda was Thanatos’s constant companion.”
“Save for twice a day. At dusk and at dawn she must leave him to feed in a sacred garden in the region of Agrafa.”
“Agrafa?” Ismene wrinkled her nose.
“The people there are fierce, that is true. They are also the only town that worship the true butterfly goddess. They will know where to find the garden.”
“And how do I catch Petalouda?”
“Only a net of human hair can catch her. And not just any human hair. The hair of the one who seeks to catch her.”
Ismene instantly thought of her long, golden hair. She kept it up in a messy pile. “Little Beehive” Mother always called her. True, the thought of cutting her hair pained her. People always told her she looked like her mother, and surely cutting the hair would ruin that image. But what was more important: Antigone, or her own appearance?
No contest. She chose herself over her brother once, and that was what brought her to this wretched situation. “Anything else I should know?”
“Only that I strongly advise you do not do this. This will end in tragedy, I am almost sure of it.”
“If I die, so be it. At least I will be with my sister, finally free of this wretched life.”
The Oracle sighed. “You tamper with dangerous power. Go now. It will take a few days to reach Agrafa.”
Ismene bowed once again. “Thank you, Great Oracle.”
The Oracle did not respond. Ismene turned and recovered her head, exiting the cave. She rolled her eyes at the leer and wink of the guard at the entrance. She had more important things on her mind than rude guards. Most importantly, she needed to figure out how to get to Agrafa.
The answer came easily enough. Offering farmers royal trinkets to take her where she desired worked well. It was a three day journey to Agrafa. While whatever cart she was in bumped along, she made work of cutting off her hair, a difficult task using two sharpened rocks in a moving cart. A piece of shattered mirror aided her, but the process still took a long time. The first day was spent cutting her hair. Her once back-length hair, the beautiful beehive, was now a short bob that stopped at her chin. The next two days were spent weaving a net. Ismene wasn’t sure how small Petalouda was, so she made the net into more of a mesh.
Finally, after three bumpy days, she reached Agrafa. The farmer remained silent as she handed him a golden ring. He turned his cart around and left quickly. He seemed afraid. And, with the tales surrounding Agrafa, tales of horror and violence. Even Ismene’s resolve to retrieve her sister weakened a bit as she walked into the town. Every logical thought told her to run. But it was too late to turn back now. She patted the small pouch on her belt that contained the net. If the residents of Agrafa truly worshipped the goddess, she imagined they were both aware of what could capture her, and did not want that to happen. So it was best that she not take out the net in sight of them.
A sour looking man approached her. “Stranger, what are you doing in Agrafa?”
Ismene resisted the urge to tilt her head. The man, though gruff, did not seem violent, as opposed to the legends. “I am Phoebe, of Thebes. I come seeking the garden of Petalouda.”
The man drew his sword. “How do you know of Petalouda?”
Ismene bowed her head, nervous. “My sister is dying. I went to the Oracle at Delphi, seeking a cure. She told me the story of Petalouda and Thanatos, and told me that a flower lit upon by the true butterfly goddess would cure my sister.”
The man’s eyebrow raised. “The Oracle said this?”
“I don’t understand her words any more than you do. I’m simply doing what she told me.”
The man sighed and sheathed his sword. “Fine. I don’t know if the flower will heal your sister or not, but if the Oracle said…”
“Thank you! Could you please point me in the direction of the garden?”
“Oh, no, I’m coming with you.”
Ismene drew back. “What? I mean, I can do this myself.”
“The sacred garden is filled with thousands upon thousands of butterflies. How will you know which butterfly is Petalouda?”
Ismene sighed. He had a point. “Oh, yes, I forgot that. Would you be kind enough to lead me and point out Petalouda… what is your name?”
“Would you please lead me, Phillip?”
The man nodded. “Follow me.”
Without another word, he turned and walked into the town. Ismene hurried after him.
The town was remarkably ordinary. Children played in the streets, merchants went about their business, wives gossiped at the well. Although the occasional fierce stare played across a face, for the most part Agrafa did not seem so fierce as the stories told.
Phillip seemed to notice her shock. “We are a quiet people; we like to be on our own. We do not usually take kindly to strangers.”
“They worship that wife of Eros as the goddess of butterflies. They have her confused with Petalouda. Psyche was merely a mortal who was made immortal. She has no true relation to butterflies. Petalouda lived centuries before Psyche was even born.”
“I see. And why not spread the truth?”
“Petalouda commanded it. She does not want her children to be feared, and surely if the mortals knew that butterflies, creatures normally associated with life and happiness, came from Death, they would fear them as omens.”
“And are they?”
“Of course not! Are horses omens of good fortune with fish and crops, since their parents are Poseidon and Demeter?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Exactly. But people are stupid. And Petalouda is content with one town of worshippers. She is not greedy.”
Ismene nodded, feeling guilty about what she was about to do. She shook it off. No one would be harmed, after all. Petalouda would go free, once Thanatos returned Antigone to the living.
The sun was just beginning to touch the horizon when they reached the garden. Ismene followed Phillip through the opening in the shrubs, and had to take a moment to take in the beauty.
Flowers of every kind graced the garden. In the center, a fountain of black crystal pushed out shimmering water. The air was thick with butterflies. All shapes, colors, and sizes were represented. Ismene spun around and took it all in. In spite of herself, she laughed.
Phillip smiled-- the man actually looked rather nice when he smiled-- and spoke.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? She made it all, and these are her children.”
“Yes, it is.”
“At some point, she has lit upon all these flowers. Take your pick.”
Ismene cleared her throat. “The Oracle said I needed one fresh with her touch.”
“Ah, yes. Well, there she is. You’re lucky it’s dusk. She’s only here at dusk and dawn.”
Phillip pointed to a medium-sized butterfly, with beautiful wings of black, purple, and silver.
“Not the largest?”
“No. Size doesn’t really matter in the Pantheon. She is the colors of death, however, revealing her darker purpose.”
“Ah, yes. Well then…”
Petalouda switched from one flower to the next. Ismene took a deep breath and stepped toward the flower, and Petalouda. She made sure that Phillip could not see her hands. Slowly, she reached down into her pouch and retrieved the net.
“What are you doing?” Phillip peeked over her shoulder.
Too late for caution. Ismene jerked the net up and over the butterfly quickly, ensnaring her. Phillip cried out and reached to free her, but Ismene jostled him away.
“Thanatos!” she screeched “I have Petalouda!”
The response was immediate. First off, Phillip slumped to the ground. Thunder crackled. In a flash of lightning, a pale man appeared. Ismene quivered at his enraged look.
“Tell me why I should not kill you where you stand,” the man spoke through gritted teeth.
Ismene held her precious package up. “I’m the only one that can free her, correct? That’s why the net has to be made from my hair.”
“That hair would’ve served you much better attracting young men. Without it, you are truly hideous.”
Ismene’s face stung. “No matter. My sister is more important.”
“Proceed then, mortal.”
Ismene cleared her throat. She really did have Death bound. “My sister, Antigone is dead.”
“So are a thousand other women’s sisters. I care because?”
“Because I have your wife! I want you to retrieve Antigone from the Underworld, and restore her to life.”
“You are Death itself. You take, you should be capable of giving back.”
“Not without a living soul for Antigone to hold on to.”
“Take me with you then,” the words left her mouth before she could process them.
“You agree to such dangerous things. Some would say you are recklessly suicidal. I do suppose you have a family history, though. You will return my wife to me when I have returned to you your sister?”
“Yes. Let’s go.”
“Very well then.”
Thanatos reached out and grabbed her hand. Before she could react, both of them sank into the ground.
Ismene expected it to be difficult to breathe underground, but it wasn’t. After about thirty seconds of sinking through miles of dirt, they emerged in a cavern. The legendary dark river flowed by them, and that was when Ismene knew she was truly in the Underworld.
Thanatos turned and began to lead her into the fields of dead. “Wait!” Ismene called.
Thanatos turned around, exasperated. “What is it?”
“How do I know you will not just take Antigone back as soon as I release Petalouda?”
“I will not.”
Ismene was unconvinced. “Fine, then. Prove it. Swear upon it and drink the water of the Styx.”
Thanatos gave her another annoyed look, then huffed and walked past her to the river.
“I swear, that if Antigone is successfully returned to the Overworld, I will not reap her until she has lived a full life and is at a ripe old age.”
He then cupped his hands and plunged them into the Styx. Bringing up a handful of water, he drank. The cavern shook with power as the oath was sealed. Thanatos stood up and looked at her, water dripping from his lips. “Happy?”
Ismene gave him a stone face. “Lead on.”
Thanatos sighed and began to lead her into the fields of the dead. Ismene constantly bumped into souls, finding them surprisingly physical. After a half hour of walking, they came across a soul sitting under a tree.
Thanatos pointed. “There she is. She must come with you willingly, or even I am powerless.”
“She will come,” Ismene was confident.
Quietly, she approached the girl under the tree. She reached out and touched her arm gently. “Antigone?”
The girl whirled around. “Ismene?”
Tears of joy filled Ismene’s eyes. “Yes, yes it’s me. I came to get you!”
Ismene leaned forward for an embrace. Antigone stepped back.
Ismene was confused. “I went to the Oracle, and learned how to control Thanatos,” she showed Antigone the butterfly.
“And you decided to come rescue me?”
“It’s why I went to the Oracle in the first place!”
Antigone took a step further back as anger filled her eyes.
“I am DEAD. I knew you were selfish, but I didn’t realize you were this selfish!”
“Selfish? I’m not selfish. I risked my own life to come save you.”
“Why did you come to save me?”
The moment the answer came to her head, Ismene realized her selfishness.
“I could not live without you. You were my sister, my only companion in our wretched existence. And I let you down, as well as our brother Polyneices. I wanted to ask for your forgiveness. Only you can free me of my guilt! I love you, and I miss you. Please come.”
“And what of Creon?” Antigone asked.
“Our uncle. Did it ever occur to you that if you died, he would have no family left? Did that thought cross your mind in your selfish, suicidal scheming?”
Ismene felt the guilt weigh on her. Antigone was right. Though she had not realized it, her motivations had been selfish all along. And not only selfish, ungrateful! She had taken for granted her only living family member, choosing instead to attempt to raise one from the dead!
Ismene dropped to her knees, crying. “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
“If you are truly sorry, return to the Overworld without me. Take care of Creon as he ages. Rule Thebes. Carry on our house. Cleanse it. Atone for all of our family’s mistakes.”
Ismene nodded, tears streaming. “Fine.”
With trembling hands, she undid the net holding Petalouda. The butterfly flew free and landed on Thanatos’s shoulder. Ismene turned her back on Antigone and walked towards the reunited pair.
“She didn’t want to come. I have no use for holding your wife captive anymore. Please, take me back to the Overworld.”
Thanatos nodded and reached out, grabbing her hand. However, as soon as their hands touched, flames sprouted all over her body.
Ismene screamed loudly. Loud enough to bring Antigone running. Ismene dropped to her knees, and suddenly the pain faded. When she opened her eyes, the flames were gone. She checked her skin. No burn marks.
“What was that for?”
“You idiot!” Antigone screeched.
“You didn’t really think I’d allow you to live after a stunt like that, did you?”
“What?” Ismene was confused. She turned to Antigone, whose face had become stone. Antigone did not say anything, but pointed at the ground in front of Ismene.
Ismene looked down and horror consumed her. Before her lay a flaming corpse. Her flaming corpse.
“I am…” she couldn’t even say the word.
“Dead,” Thanatos finished for her. He shrugged. “Happens to the best of us. But, I gave you your hair back. Consider it a parting gift.”
And with that, he was gone. Ismene grabbed at her accursed hair and screamed, crying. She turned to Antigone, but Antigone turned away and marched back into the field. Ismene fell to the ground. She was unforgiven. Her selfishness was what killed her, as should be. When she had left on her journey, she hadn’t cared if she was alive or dead at the end of it. But now, thoughts of Creon tormented her. How he’d lost both nephews, his sister, his wife, his son, and his niece. And how his last family member, his final niece, had scorned him. And now she was gone too.
Guilt crushed her spirit. The tears turned into spasmodic sobs, but nothing would ever make it better. She was not forgiven.
“I’m… so… sorry.” pulled the hood tighter, hoping to cover as much of her inconspicuously clean hair as possible. Royalty were not to visit the Oracle, they were to send servants asking questions. However, this was a personal mission, and no one, no one, could know what she was considering. She could practically hear her uncle scolding her, “No one trifles with Death.”
“And so they turned them all into birds,” Eris finished her story.
“Wow, Eris, that’s… um… interesting,” Eos commented. Eris smiled.
“Really? You’re the first to think so. I find it fascinating that mortals are so naturally violent. All I had to do was plant a little suggestion in the couple’s head and they go insane! I mean, who suspected she’d kill her own son?”
“I, uh, don’t know,” Eos replied.
“I mean, who would think that…”
“Oh! Look at Apollo! I’ve got to go. I must ready my chariot for tomorrow’s journey.”
“Eos? It’s not even noon yet.”
“Yes, but today is my brushing day. I have to brush my ponies or they won’t stay on the right track.”
“Oh, of course,” Eris smiled. “Have fun!”
With that, the goddess of dawn rushed off. Eris noticed something a bit off.
“Eos?” she called.
“Yes?” Eos spun around.
“East is that way!” she pointed in the opposite direction.
“Oh, right, I have to grab the brushes first though!”
“Ah. I see.” Eris turned and walked further into Olympus.
Life had been great since Zeus had allowed her to move up from the Underworld. Eris finally had someone to talk to besides the chattering shades of the dead. Something to do rather than wait for the next place that needed discord. Friends that she was especially grateful for.
Of course, since she was relatively new on Olympus, Eris had to initiate most of the conversations herself. But, she figured that eventually the pantheon would get used to talking to her and she would no longer have to start every conversation.
The best thing about Olympus was the lovely parties that the gods would throw. Aphrodite had given one earlier in the year, with the Muses playing beautiful tunes and the Graces teaching even the shyest of gods how to dance. Eris had thoroughly enjoyed herself, and was grateful that someone had told her about it before it happened. This party was only a few weeks after her ascent to Olympus, so Aphrodite had not thought to invite her. Thankfully the Muse Clio invited her.
Eris turned a corner onto a darker side of Olympus. There were stalagmites shooting up from the depths of the mountain, and a spring that bubbled up all the way from the Underworld. Here was where the darker deities lived, such as Hypnos, god of sleep. It gave Eris some of the comforts of the Underworld, the quiet, the bubbling water, the crackle of fire. But now she had the option to go into the light if she wished.
The small palace of Eris looked as if it could’ve been there for ages, but it had only been built very recently. It was rather modest, larger than the typical mortal home, yet smaller than the typical temple. It was built entirely out of black stone. Eris loved it.
A surprise was waiting for her when she entered.
The Titaness of Divine Justice stood examining some skeleton lilies on Eris’s table. She looked up and smiled.
“Hello, Eris! How are you adjusting to Olympus?”
Themis had been instrumental in convincing Zeus to allow Eris to live on Olympus. Themis was delighted when he finally consented. She had promised to be back in nine months’ time to see how she was doing.
“Has it been nine months already?” Eris asked.
“Yes. Do you like it here?”
Eris smiled. “Oh, most definitely. Everyone is so nice! They listen to me talk and everything!”
Themis nodded. “I trust you’ve had some good conversations.”
Eris paused. “Well, it’s mostly me talking, because they don’t seem to know anything about the life of a goddess of discord. But I’m going to change that.”
Themis smiled. “I see you are still wearing the necklace Zeus gave you.”
Eris felt the golden chain around her neck. “Of course! I never take it off. It’s a reminder of all the great and wonderful things I have received here on Olympus that I could have never gotten in the Underworld.”
“It is very beautiful.”
Eris blushed. “Thank you.”
“I trust the gods have been kind?” Themis inquired.
“Oh, yes, they eat with me and I listen to them talk.”
“Do you ever get to talk while you dine together?”
Eris paused again. “Well, um… no. But that’s just because I’m a dark deity… they don’t like to talk to me as much but I still get to talk to them and hear about their fun lives. Dionysus has some of the best stories!”
“Oh, so you’ve met Dionysus? What do you think?”
Eris blushed again. “He’s the most handsome of all the gods. I wish he would notice me.”
“He has a wife, doesn’t he?”
“So does Zeus. How many of your children has he fathered?” Eris snapped back, quick to her defense.
Themis laughed. “Fair point.”
“Has he spoken to you much, then?”
Eris smiled. “Oh, not much, but when he does he’s really nice!”
Themis smiled. “So I trust he invited you to his party tonight?”
“What?” Eris frowned. “No, he hasn’t said anything about a party.”
Themis paused. A flash of concern crossed her face, but was quickly reestablished by a reassuring smile.
“Oh, no matter, it’s just one party.”
“Yeah,” Eris felt less sure of herself. “Only a party.”
“Well, I’ll be off then! Glad you’re adjusting well to Olympus!”
“It was an honor to have you,” Eris politely escorted Themis to the door, although her thoughts were elsewhere. This conversation had brought to light a lot of realizations she had failed to make. The gods really didn’t include her very much. She always had to remind them she was there.
“I’d better see Dionysus about that party,” she muttered.
“Oh, Eris, OF COURSE you’re invited,” Dionysus laughed.
“Really?” Eris smiled.
“Yeah, I just forgot to go to the darker side of Olympus. You know how dark deities can be.”
Eris nodded. “Of course.”
“So, I’ll see you tonight… unless you want to help me and the satyrs get set up?” Dionysus raised an eyebrow.
“Oh!” Eris blushed. “Sure, I don’t think there is any strife to cause anywhere.”
Dionysus smiled. “Perfect! Now, if you’ll go get those silver goblets…”
Eris was thrilled at being included. She helped Dionysus set up until Apollo came back from his journey. That was when guests started showing up.
“Hello, Iris!” Eris approached the goddess of the rainbow.
“Oh, hello, Eris,” Iris frowned slightly.
“How is life as a messenger? I love your rainbow. Who does your colors?”
“I do,” Iris replied curtly.
“Oh, then you are amazing! Great job!”
“Thanks, Eris,” Iris sounded annoyed. “Now, I need to go talk to Hebe, okay? Talk to you later.”
Eris nodded, her feelings a bit hurt. As Iris left, Eris turned to other gods and goddesses. They all treated her in the same way, curt, and quick to leave. Finally, Eris decided to return home.
“Goodbye, Dionysus. Thanks for the party!”
“Oh, you’re welcome, Eris,” he sounded preoccupied.
Eris sighed and left. In a matter of minutes she was back on the dark side of Olympus. Hypnos was just returning from his journey spreading sleep.
“Hello, Eris,” he smiled.
“How was your journey?”
Hypnos smiled genuinely. “Good. Everyone went to sleep quickly.”
“Where are you off to now?”
“Oh, I’m going to Dionysus’s party. Didn’t he invite you?”
“Um… yeah. But I had to ask him. He said he didn’t come to the dark side.”
“Really? Well, he did. Maybe he just forgot you.”
“Yeah,” Eris said, “maybe.”
“Well, I’m off,” Hypnos smiled. “Have a good night, Eris.”
“You too!” she smiled politely.
Eris retreated to her home as Hypnos left for the party. She wondered why Dionysus would lie to her. She tried to brush it out of her mind as she prepared to sleep. “He’ll remember the next time. Now he’ll definitely remember,” she said as she drifted off to sleep.
Three months later, Eris was at her wits’ end. She had not been invited to do anything, at all, since that night. Two months before, the tolerance the gods and goddesses had for Eris dropped to zero. Any time she tried to talk or start a conversation, the person she was talking to would just say “Shut up, Eris.”
She had not talked to Dionysus at all as soon as people had begun not listening to her. She did not want to risk being rejected by him. Rather, she just decided to not talk to him at all.
All of the things Themis had brought to light made her realize how poorly she was treated on Olympus. It began to make her long for the Underworld. She still kept the golden necklace, the one that symbolized her arrival on Olympus. She could not bear to destroy it, to give up completely.
All of these she pondered as she ate her ambrosia. However, when Artemis began a story about a hunting trip she had just been on with all the goddesses, Eris got up and left.
“Oh!” Eris crashed right into someone. The ambrosia plate spilled all against her clothes.
“I’m sorry,” a deep, gentle voice came. Eris paled. “No,” she thought, “Not him!”
“Hi, Dionysus! Sorry I bumped into you.”
Dionysus smiled. “No, I’m sorry. Look, you got ambrosia all over you. Let me wipe it off.”
He produced a rag and began brushing ambrosia off of her.
“Oh, thank you,” Eris blushed slightly.
“Oh, while I’m talking to you, is there anything going on tonight?”
“Let me think…” Dionysus paused and scratched his scruffy beard. “No, I can’t think of anything.”
“Okay. Thanks for being honest.”
Dionysus swallowed. “You are welcome. There, all clean!”
Eris saw that he had gotten rid of all the ambrosia. “Thanks!”
“See you around then,” Dionysus smiled.
“Yeah, see you around.”
Eris left the dining hall. Her heart felt light because Dionysus had been kind to her. She happily hummed as she wreaked havoc among mortal lives for the rest of the day. Whisper ideas of murder here, break a few priceless heirlooms there, all while she smiled along.
After this, she went back to her home. She was surprised yet again by Themis.
The Titaness of Divine Justice smiled. “Eris, how are you doing?”
Eris frowned. “Not as good. Why?”
“Oh, I just figured I’d pop by and see how you were doing. Are you going to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis tonight?”
“No! No one told me!”
Themis frowned. “What? Dionysus planned it. Surely he would’ve invited you.”
“Dionysus planned it!” Eris exclaimed. A million emotions exploded into her head at once, and none of them were good.
“Yes, I thought surely…”
“Where is it?”
“Where is what?”
“Oh, it’s at the castle of Peleus.”
“I know the place,” Eris muttered. “If you’ll excuse me, Themis.”
“Are you going?” Themis asked, incredulous.
“And what are you going to do there?” she asked.
“What I do best,” tears brimmed in Eris’s eyes. Without another word, Eris left her home and descended to the castle of Peleus. She followed the sounds of feasting and merriment until she came to the great hall. The doors were locked.
Eris let a burst anger pulse through her and dark energy released from her, pushing the door open. The room silenced as she marched in.
Whispers arose as Eris turned to glare at Dionysus while she walked. He looked away, ashamed.
The bride and groom trembled before her. Eris stopped in front of their table and grinned devilishly.
“My congratulations to you both.”
The couple trembled.
“Wasn’t there some prophecy that her child would be greater than his father?” Eris nodded at Thetis.
Before either could respond, Eris let out a long laugh. “Ah, no matter. I bring a present.”
“M’lady, we are m… most honored by your gift, but your presence is already enough of a gift. Sit, eat, drink!” Peleus managed a trembling smile.
“Oh, it’s not for you. Or maybe it is.”
Eris grabbed the pendant of her golden chain. She paused to look at it. It was a beautiful golden apple the size of her thumb, with a leaf of emerald on the top. She raised it to her lips and kissed it. A tear welled in the corner of her eye as she pulled on it, quickly snapping the chain from around her neck.
Eris turned to face the crowd. She held the golden apple and chain aloft. “For the fairest,” she set it down on the wedding table.
“Oh, and Zeus?”
“Yes?” Zeus asked.
“I’ll be moving back to the Underworld, if you don’t mind.” Eris blinked and the tear rolled down her cheek. Before Zeus could respond, Eris disappeared. The room erupted into chaos as the goddesses all lunged for the apple.
“So she has finally given up?” Themis asked.
“Yes,” Zeus replied. “She has returned to the Underworld. Her heart is most definitely broken.” He looked around at the empty throne room.
“Good. This was necessary. Those who cause great strife must receive great strife.”
“There was, however, one complication,” Zeus interjected.
“What?” Themis demanded.
“The apple that I gave her? She presented it to Peleus, declaring it ‘for the fairest.’ As soon as she left, every goddess present began to fight over the apple.”
“Oh, my,” Themis replied.
“They were eventually able to narrow it down to Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite by themselves. However, they turned the judgment to me.”
“And you chose?” Themis asked.
“None. I sent them to Paris, son of Priam.”
“That shepherd prince of Troy?”
“Yes. I trust the judgment will come quickly. Then the matter will be over and done with.”
“Yes, it is of no consequence.”
Hermes burst through the door breathless.
“Oh, here must be the verdict now,” Zeus smiled.
Hermes took a breath. “Hail, King of the Gods...”
It was not uncommon for the rabble to enter service late, but the blind woman made quite an entrance. Even Father D’Allumette froze mid incantation to observe the tap tap tapping of the cane as she found a seat in the back. D’Allumette took a deep breath and continued with the service, lifting the Eucharist aloft. Unsurprisingly, the woman did not kneel, although she did come forth to receive the body. D’Allumette looked her up and down as she stepped forward.
She wore a shoulderless maroon dress that was quite inappropriate for the service. In addition to this, she had covered her eyes with a blindfold. D’Allumette had previously seen her in the streets, and he knew this was a mercy. The woman had horribly scarred eyes, presumably from some factory accident. Most avoided her, except for the paying customer that could stand to have her disfigured face beneath him.
The tip of her cane tapped his shoe. She faced him expectantly, and he blinked. The whole church stared, unsure of what to make of the scene.
“You must bow your head and extend your hands in acceptance.”
“I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.”
D’Allumette tugged at his collar, unsure of what to do. “I bless you then, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” he made the sign of the cross over her.
“Do I get the wafer now?”
“Only those who bow before the body of Christ may receive.”
“And you would deny Christ to a supplicant?”
“Ma’am, you are not supplicating.”
“I am asking for Christ, am I not?”
“Ma’am, you are holding up the line. Could you please sit down, and we will address the issue later?”
The woman took a deep breath. “If you insist,” and she turned, tapping the cane as she moved. She settled, and Father D’Allumette finished the rest of the service.
“Go in peace, the Mass has ended.”
The congregation arose, chattering with gossip about the blind woman. It took a few minutes for the chapel to be emptied, but after the last parishioner left, D’Allumette made his way to the blind woman’s pew. She turned her head towards him when she heard his approach.
“I apologize for causing a scene. The rest of the congregation did not need to witness our altercation.”
“I accept your apology. To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
“Ah, yes, humanity.”
“May I ask why you have come to this house?”
“I thought the cathedral was open to all.”
“It is, but you do not seem the type that would want to come to service.”
“Whores are typically the last I expect to enter the cathedral.”
“Who said I was a whore?”
“Beg your pardon, but I’ve seen you in the streets, seducing men.”
“Seducing men? Name one man who has claimed to sleep with me.”
“I don’t know of one. I’ve only seen you speak with them, and they give you money.”
“It is now whorish to beg and offer advice? People pay for my advice, men especially. You may find that I am very wise.”
“Perhaps I have misjudged you. I am Father D’Allumette. What is your name?”
The woman smiled. “Azra. May I ask why you denied me the wafer?”
D’Allumette frowned. “You see, Azra, we have very set standards and rituals on how one must approach God. One would not want to offend Him, as did Nadab and Abihu when offering strange fire.”
“Ah, I see, so you have based your standard upon a specific decree from God that one must bow their head before receiving the body of Christ.”
D’Allumette’s frown deepened. “Well, no. We are basing this standard on respect for the physical body of Christ, for His sacrifice.”
“I was not aware that the body of Christ was so preservable; surely He must be divine if His body has lasted for more than a millennium, and in so many pieces too. Is it like the bread and fish?”
D’Allumette’s frown became a scowl. “We make wafers of grain from the earth, and they are consecrated, and become the body of Christ.”
“Such great power was given to you to by the Lord, then, to call down transformative powers. Tell me, does it taste like a human body?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Surely you’ve licked your own lips, touched yourself, even sucked a thumb as a child. You know the taste of human skin, you know the taste of meat, does the wafer taste like either?”
D’Allumette stood, trying to leave the horrid woman, but she blocked him with her cane.
“May I take your attempt to leave as an admission that it does not, it takes like an ordinary wafer, feels like an ordinary wafer? So then you have created an image of the Lord our God? I thought you read the Old Testament. Surely you must know that the golden calf was an idol to Yahweh.”
“And what’s more, let’s forget that for a moment. Assume it is as you say it is, the body of Christ. You would deny me the body of Christ? You would deny me Christ himself? Who are you to decide who gets Christ and who does not? Did the prophet Isaiah not say ‘every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ Without price? Did Jesus not say the same thing? You would deny me my chance to drink the life giving waters?”
“Do not say that you are merely following the orders of your superiors. No, Pierre, your problem runs much deeper. I have sat at the corner nearest your cathedral for weeks, begging for food, money, a home, and you have made no offer of any of these, though you live in the decadence of your priestly quarters. You’ve assumed me a whore. All of these betray your pride.”
D’Allumette turned to leave, but the woman was suddenly in front of him.
“What are you?”
Black wings spread out from behind her. “You are so blind, Pierre. And yet your God loves you. Truly, it is your pride that has blinded you, and the Lord God of Hosts has offered you the opportunity to turn from this. Behold, the all-seeing eye of God.”
She held out a wooden triangle. D’Allumette screamed, beholding the terror in the center. A single blinking, moving eye.
“Now, Pierre, see the truth.”
The woman ripped off her blindfold. D’Allumette gaped in astonishment. The woman’s eyes had been healed! But as he stared, her eyes began to multiply, covering her face, her hands. Soon eyes of every shape and color stared at him from all over her body. D’Allumette trembled.
“I am Azrael, “Help From God.” And Pierre, I do this for your own good.”
D’Allumette backed away in horror as she reached out a hand. He crashed into the pew, and Azrael’s finger found his right eye. With searing hot fingertips, she grabbed and pulled. D’Allumette screamed, and watched with his good eye as she pressed the recently removed eye against her bosom. When she removed her hand, his own eye stared at him from her chest. He screamed again as she repeated this action with his second eye. He collapsed in the darkness that was now his reality.
“Now,” D’Allumette felt the angel step over him. “Live humbly, Pierre. I shall keep your eyes safe, and, if you learn, I will return them to you at the end of days.”
He heard the door slam shut. Shaking, he rose to his knees. The pain had subsided, his sockets charred to the point of unfeeling. What had just happened?
Despairing, he felt along the floor, finding Azrael’s cane and blindfold. As he pulled himself to a feet, he uttered a prayer.
“Lord, teach me to be humble.”