Charon’s daughter sat waiting for her father’s boat to return. Until it did, she sat patiently on the pier holding a lantern to show the arriving passengers the way. It wasn’t the career she had hoped for. After all, she had great legs and had always wanted to be a model. But it was the family business, and she had been convinced to stay on at least till she got her break. She had really loved her gap year, two years ago. She had seen loads of places she could have only dreamed of back here on the Styx. The longer she sat the more she regretted giving in to her mother’s pleas to stay. Finally, as the ferry came back into view, she decided to tell her dad she had had enough. When he got to her side, she would let him know that she was heading back to Milan at the end of the week. If this job had taught her anything, it was that life’s too short to waste.
The Beauty Of her face Filled men’ hearts with Passion and desire An epic war was fought For her love and her favour Paris wooed Helen from her throne Menelaus jilted sought revenge A thousand ships set sail, bringing Troy’s end
It might be cliche, but Arandia saw no rhyme or reason to the Goddess‘ oracle pronouncement. The message lacked the usual poetic style, and it was in no way cryptic, as was the Goddess’ custom.
For six years, Arandia had served the temple as a Keeper of the Doorway, as her mother had served before her. Thus was the thread of life that wove together the Keeper Clan. A keeper would begin her duties at twenty, and then leave at thirty to marry and raise the next generation of Keepers.
At twenty-six it was odd for Arandia to be sent on a mission so far from the holy site. Such tasks usually fell upon Keepers in their twenty-ninth year, before ending their service at the gates.
But the Goddess had called her by name for the task. She was to go to the Shrine of Eskalese and bring back three chalices full of water from the pool there. No one from the Goddess’ temple had been sent there in living memory, and the link between the temple and the shrine were tenuous. There was, of course, the ancient legend that the Goddess once had a relationship with the hero, Eskalese but the details were shrouded in time.
As Arandia approached the shrine she was surprised to find it overgrown and in disrepair. She nonetheless continued up the weedy path towards the shrine and the pool within.
The pool was covered with thick algae and pond weed, and had a foul stagnant smell to it. Arandia took out the stone jar and silver chalice from her haversack and took a deep breath before using the lip of the chalice to clear away the algae. As she did, she was startled by the sound of movement behind her.
Glancing behind her she saw a woman, the exact likeness of the statues of the Goddess at the temple, tied to a stake and being loomed over by a serpent-headed figure.
Arandia bolted towards the assailant and bludgeoned the fiend over the head with the stone jar. After several blows, the creature collapsed to the ground and then seemed to dissolve into the soil.
“Well done, Daughter,” the woman said in a clear hypnotic voice. The woman was now standing unbound before Arandia and radiating a warm glow. “You have proven your worthiness, Daughter,” the Goddess said. “Come,” the deity said, pointing the way to the pool.
Arandia followed with a mix of reverent excitement and fear. The Goddess leaned over the foul pool, and taking Arandia’s hand, she pricked the Keeper’s finger with her nail and a drop of blood fell into the pool. It worked as some sort of catalyst, for no sooner had the drop fell into the waters that they became clear, and the entire shrine seemed to be renewed.
It was then that Arandia saw her reflection and that of the Goddess in the pool. She was taken aback by how similar they were.
“Long ago,” the Goddess began. “I was in love with the human Eskalese. Our love was not approved of by my mother, and she banned me from seeing him again. In sorrow, I gave to him his legendary powers as a warrior, and he unknowingly left me with a child. She grew to be the first of the Keeper’s and my half mortal children have stood by me and served me ever since. But I saw in you something special, something divine. Drink from the pool, and join me, Daughter, claim your birth right.”
Arandia dipped the silver chalice into the clear waters, and then drank deeply, savoring the sweet taste of her transformation.
Manny King was a top mechanic and the most good ol’ of all the local good ol’ boys. He had been the captain of the high school football team, and held the local record for how many beers he could chug down in three minutes. Ever since their sophomore year he had dated Helen, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen.
Two weeks ago however when she was waitressing at Big Red’s Truck Stop, things had all gone wrong. Some college fella, called Troy, or some such, stopped in, driving his BMW and flashing around money and a perfect smile. Worse still, he openly flirted with Helen, and she reciprocated. At the end of her shift, Helen left her apron and Manny’s class ring with Big Red and took off to the city with flashy frat boy.
When Manny finished at the garage he went to pick up Helen, only to be told what had transpired. He was furious, but didn’t know what to do. He therefore went to see, his older brother, Aggie for advice. Aggie knew exactly what to do. He rounded up all the good ol’ boys, and a convoy of over a hundred pick-up trucks headed towards the city to retrieve Helen.
You might say Helen was the face that launched a thousand Hicks.
Silvanus couldn’t believe his luck. The human with the chainsaw didn’t cut him in half as had happened with his Aunty Drynia. No this guy fancied himself to be some sort of Michelangelo, freeing the spirit of what was within, not just chopping and cutting aimlessly.
So there Silvanus was, exposed to the light of day, and the cruel dryness of the air. It was not only a frightening experience but painful as well. He could barely breathe this thing dry stuff. Where was the moist sap which had normally sustained him. he was a Dryad out of water, well sap anyway. There was only one thing to do. Silvanus donned a mask and snorkel and channeled all of the sap he could into a tank. He then set out to explore this strange wide-open world in which he found himself.
We have always lived in the castle. Not me personally, mind, but our family has been in the castle as long as there has been one. Before even.
We were on the site when Boyda and his people raised the wooden palisades upon our hill. Those were pleasant times, and we lived in harmony with the newcomers. They treated us with respect, and the Druids brought us little treasures and laid them before our spring.
Then those coarse Latins arrived. They tore down the lovely oak walls and raised ramparts of stone. Some of these foul men disrespected us, and they didn’t think to thank us for the clear water that flowed from our spring. But they learned – oh, how they learned. My great-grandmother was but a girl then, but she remembered her mother making the water sour and many of the legion-men falling ill. The gifts soon returned, I can tell you. But these hard men left and our family lived quietly on our hilltop home among the decaying stone.
New visitors came, they called themselves the Folk, but they were not unlike the Romans or the Celts before them. They rebuilt the walls and dug a well next to our spring. Grandmother was not pleased with that and in her fury again tainted the waters and some of the newcomers fell blind. They left our hill!
The castle builders came when my mother was a girl. They robbed the stone from the hilltop and made new walls with high round towers and a gate with an iron portcullis. They dug another well further down the hill, and used pipes to flow it to the keep. They largely left our family alone, but mother remembers one day when a young man and woman sat looking longingly into each other’s eyes as they sat at the edge of our spring just outside of their walls. Their love filled her with joy and she granted them a long life and happiness together. It is their great-great-great-great-great grandchildren that sold the castle to the wool merchant. I was a girl then, and his family were kind to us. They loved nature and built the parks and gardens below the hill. See how pretty they are. I kind of like the statue they placed next to our spring. It looks much like your grandmother when she was young, though it is silly that they put butterfly wings on the back of a Water-Sprite.
It was just before you were born that the present bunch came here. They turned the castle into a hotel. They built the two bungalows outside the walls and the little path to our spring. Honeymoon cottages they call them. I think it is lovely that the young couples come to enjoy our spring. It is up to you now, my daughter, to protect the waters though. These humans are such unpredictable sorts. It was like when that man with the strange hair wanted to build a golf course here, I had to see him off. You may have to do the same, he doesn’t seem to ever learn his lessons.
“There’s a big “W” in the sky,” Tilly said looking up in wonder.
“That’s Cassiopeia,” Aunt Helen replied.
“Cassiopeia? That’s a funny name,” Tilly said mulling it over in her mind. “Do you spell Cassiopeia with a W?”
“Not exactly,” her aunt explained. “You see a long time ago there was a beautiful queen named Cassiopeia. She was really, truly beautiful, but she was also brash and conceited. She was so caught up into her own looks, that she looked down on the beauty of others. She even went so far as to brag that she was more attractive than the goddesses or the sea nymphs called the Nereids. This angered the Sea-god Poseidon who was married to one of the Nereids, so he sent a sea monster to punish her for vanity. In the end she was cast into the sky as a punishment.”
“That’s terrible,” Tilly said.
“Yes, but Queen Cassi got the last laugh,” her aunt observed. “See she’s still with us, her name in the sky.”