Epicycles

Even though he knows what’s coming, Paris thrills to put the apple into Aphrodite’s outstretched hand for the millionth time. His soul shivers with the contact, and he grins moonishly in her immobile face. Hera and Athena depart, muttering darkly, as they always do. “You have chosen well,” his goddess murmurs.

Hector takes up his arms again, and laughs joyously at his onrushing death and degradation. He is at the shore of Acheron before his cast off body has completed its first and latest round. “You again!” barks Cerberus. “How do you keep getting out?”

Alexander Hammil is a tongue of flame, speaking lies and misleading truths to a Florentine and his Mantuan guide. He speaks of borrowed cunning, and the daring blasphemy that saw him sail in his dotage to the shores of the cleansing mount. “Thank you, wise Odysseus,” mocks the Florentine, and passes on as he has before. But Odysseus is gone to farther shores, and found a different end beneath the stranger stars.

Asterion’s Canny Jaws

They never taught me to speak, my parents, but I learned in spite: born speaking, without words, my wide head and ungrown horns a mute testimony to human greed, a more than human thirst for the unsatisfying bite of the sea’s salt teeth.

They built this path for me, this maze of words, of obligations, of everything unsaid, demanded blood price from stranger and conquered kingdoms. I could not grow fast enough for my destined vengeance, so I took what ruth I could upon these clean-limbed and wailing youths, stuffed my stomach in the manner of my grandfather’s father.

We are all so much meat, nothing more.

Still: nothing lasts except the tides. Once I met a man, a twist of craft in his fist, and he struck me down, one more bloody heap tumbled to the bottom of this pit. He found his way out, and my long-delayed vengeance, and with that I must be satisfied.

I never asked for life, but in that, at least, I am not alone.

Get Help

a story for Ash

Like this: a blond godling, screaming in horror with all the strength of his leather lungs, and his younger brother, crumpled on the ground. Frigga hits a dead run at the sound of that scream; an eternity of motherhood has taught her the difference between real pain and fake.

“What did you do? Oh my son, what did you do?

Thor weeps: an ugly, blotched mess, his face streaked with remorse. “We were fighting, and he fell, and, and, and, the table, he hit the table, and…”

Frigga wails: a hollowing-out sound of agony, a century’s worth of parenting and love turned inside out, the death knell of an immortal god. (Later, he will remember this sound as he slips a spear of mistletoe into Hodor’s hand; this moment, this mourning.) Loki spasms upright on the ground, weeping apologies, it was a joke, it was all a joke, he’s fine, they’re both fine, it’s fine. She goes white and silent and drives him two fathoms into the rock and leaves him there for a month in her fury. He will remember this slight, as he remembers all slights; they should have made him the God of Memory.

When she pulls him out again, still furious, still wounded, he is contrite and horrified. “You can lie if you have to,” she tells him, one old liar to a new one, “but never to the people you love. Not like that.” Then she crushes him against her breast and all is forgiven.

It was one more piece of good advice that he’d go on to ignore, but never forget.

ONE Two Three FOUR Five Six

This I know:

Best of my children, brave as they all are brave, clever as they all are clever, but loyal as none other is loyal, save to me.

There is a rottenness at the heart of me, some split rock at the foundation, some root gnawed raw. I am set apart from all others, clever Loki, shifting Loki, Loki who is all things and no one thing. The world is twinned and tripled, split again and again, like tree roots, like snake tongues, and at every branching of the way, there is Loki dancing. From such are monsters and magic born.

Father of monsters, but mother of heroes, so you will be accounted the greatest of horses, my son, born of my flesh, faster than the sun, sure-footed as the wind, master of all paths like your mother Loki. The gods themselves will find you worthy, my son, but only to bear burdens, not counsel. Ah, well. Bear glory and the bridle well: it is more than I have given elsewhere.

Palimpsest

A beautiful boy, drowned in a pool.

That’s the story, anyway: mouth green with cress he drowned, a sailor boy dead in fresh water. His great-thewed lover turned the island out for a month of searching, dawn to dusk, and then left; even love only lasts so long.

The island remembers.

Spring is ending and they run the hills, the trails, the dirt paths, crying a dead name in honor of a dead love. Forced, they say; by tradition if nothing else. Oh, well. In the evening they eat cress, drink new wine.

White driftwood on rocky beaches.

A fisher, caught in his nets, frozen in place; helpful hands descending. That’s the story, anyway. Slipped off the docks, a bad fall stopped just short of the water, arms and legs above the tide line, dark with the sun.

Train tracks.

They drink too much, joylessly, stubbornly, in cars parked outside of town. Plausible deniability, a stupid accident walking home, some high school nonsense. Red rocks and iron and parents who are careful to not search their rooms.

Woodsmoke and gulls.

You circle back to these stories, to these moments, like sea birds over a school of fish. Each time, one spiral higher, one circle wider, and then—