The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Installment #7: Divergence

As mother recommended, I allowed a few days to pass before I approached my friends. By this time, it had become apparent that no one knew of my treasonous thoughts or words, and I felt more at ease. I tried to forget my fright at the stream, brushing it off as my own paranoia, though deep within myself I knew that someone had been watching me. I sent Leta and Kianis bunches of blooms, along with an invitation to meet me in the barrel meadow, then waited. I sat straddling my barrel, letting my sandaled feet dangle at the sides, scraping the wood as they swayed back and forth. I looked down at the wooden top, picking at the grain. A bit of soil had accumulated in the miniscule cracks between fibers, and I saw an opportunity for a challenge. I pressed my index finger down against the wood, concentrating. The wood was reasonably moist. I felt the elements begin to gather beneath my finger, compressing beneath its point as they withdrew from the wood around it. I felt a push against my fingertip, but held it firm. There wasn’t much to work with here; it needed to gather more strength. The pressure against my finger increased, but I continued to hold, channeling more energy into the center, feeling it course down my arm, across my hand, and shoot out through my finger. I felt a tiny prick as the tip of the shoot poked against my finger. It was ready to be born. I raised my finger slowly from the surface of the barrel, watching a thin green shoot follow it, winding upwards like a piece of yarn. It grew thicker, strong enough now to stand on its own, and I released it from the tip of my finger, now feeding it with my palms, which were rounded to embrace it but held back by a few inches. In a few moments, it no longer needed my help. I lowered my hands, watching in satisfaction as the bloom finished opening itself. A single lily now stood in front of me, growing out of the old wood of the barrel, in the gap between my outstretched legs.

“Is that for peace?” asked Leta, appearing in front of me.

“If it helps to mend the rift between us, then yes,” I said.

She looked very sad, and I dreaded her response. “As far as I am concerned, Persephone, our quarrel is over. I am sorry we exchanged harsh words in the first place.”

I looked down, knowing that this was not the resolution, but rather a prelude of kindness before her judgment. “But,” I began for her.

“But…” she said, her voice wavering, “When I was upset, I went to my mother, Persephone, as I’m sure you did yours.” Her words came out in a tangled rush, her voice escalating with regret. My heart stopped and I wondered if they gods had merely been waiting before they summoned me to answer for my insolence, or if perhaps her mother had waited until now to report me.

“What did you tell her, Leta?” I asked softly, resigning myself to the unthinkable.

“Oh, please do not fear, Persephone. My mother would never reveal you to the gods. She has seen you grow from a sprout, and she has not the heart to expose you to harm. But I told her what we squabbled over and now she does not think it wise for me to continue to be friends with you. She worries that if you continue to hold such opinions, they will come out eventually and she fears I could be endangered.” Leta was nearly crying now, her voice becoming choked. “I told her you would stop, that you wouldn’t ever say such things again, but she said I couldn’t know that and that she already fears I may be implicated… oh, Persephone, this is not my choice!” Leta wept now, choking on her own words. As relieved as I was that I had not been betrayed, my heart broke at her announcement that we must part ways. I looked down at the lily, still glowing with its freshness and youth as it grew from the dead planks of the barrel.

“All will be well, Leta,” I said gently. “In my heart we will always remain the truest of friends. I do not blame you for what you must do.”

Leta threw herself at me and embraced me, crushing the lily between us. I felt its fragile body break against me, the soft structure of its petals rupturing against the silk of my robe, the fluids I had gathered from the wood seeping through to my skin. She held tightly to me, crying into my shoulder, her tears flowing into my hair. “You are so good, Persephone. So very good,” said through her sobs. It occurred to me to ask her about Kianis, though I already knew her answer.

“Where is Kianis?” I asked, “Does she begrudge me? Did she not wish to see me?”

Leta’s sobs grew more violent as she gave birth to the words with agony. “Her mother… has likewise forbidden her to see you. She was afraid to come; she said she could not bear the look on your face. She asked me to send her sweetest love and most bitter of regrets.”

I had expected as much. Kianis had never been strong of will. She used to follow where I led, but it was clear that she had now chosen to attach herself instead to Leta. “You may send her my love as well, along with my own regrets, and my forgiveness,” I said. They knew that they were wronging me, but lacked the strength to stand with me. I would do no good to hold it against them.

“We three have been friends for so long,” said Leta, pulling away to look into my eyes, “I can hardly imagine my days without you.” She placed her hand on my cheek, and pressed her forehead against mine. My own tears now flowed freely down my face with the bitterness of our parting. Nearly all of my memories were tied up with theirs; until today I could not conceive of myself without Leta on my right and Kianis on my left. It seemed impossible that I could exist without them, and yet I now knew that I must. Our fates were not entwined, as I had always presumed they were. The threads of our lives were diverging; I would go one way, they would go another. With this understanding my heart hardened a little, becoming stronger and more guarded. Leta kissed me goodbye, but I hardly felt her lips. “Mother said I was not to be gone for very long,” she said. “I will think of you with every bloom I see.”

This was her farewell, and I presumed, the last words she would say to me. She was gone before I had a chance to say goodbye.

I sat there for a while, staring across the meadow, watching the tiny creatures in their exploits. The lily was broken in my hands. Leta had never been careful of the things around her; she was reckless and thoughtless. I tried to heal it, hoping it would rise up again, but its life had been too fragile to begin with, and my exchange with Leta had left me drained. I lowered myself from the barrel and sat on the ground, hugging my knees to my chest. I had lost my two dearest friends because of my questions, and this only intensified my desire to find answers. I leaned my forehead against my knees and went over the options in my mind again. The humans had oracles to whom they could address such questions, but oracles were simply humans who could divine the will of the gods. I already knew the will of the gods; what I wanted to know was why they willed it. Perhaps I could ask Prometheus. He had defied the gods because of his compassion for the humans and had been punished with eternal torment. He would not betray me to them, and he was most likely to hold the answers I sought. Seeking him out would be a problem, though, as would traveling to meet him. Suppose he was watched by spies in order to discourage those who would help him? How would I even reach him? I could travel quickly and without effort, over land and water, and through air, but not over enormous distances, and not when I did not know my destination. “Arrghh…” I groaned into my knees, frustrated that something was outside my grasp.

Besides the practical difficulties, I was still afraid that I might be discovered. I could not imagine what would happen to me. Perhaps they would chain me to a rock next to Prometheus and command a bird to eat my liver every day. At least then I would have good conversation. My frustration gave me strength, and I began to feel refreshed. My power was coming back, and I suddenly had the desire to use it. I pressed my palms into the grass on either side of me and closed my eyes, tilting my face upward. The last rays of the sun were flashing across the land. Once more I had sat in one spot all day, thinking and watching the world in all its wonderful processes. Time meant very little to me, but these two days of contemplation within the last week were the only times in my entire life I had sat in one place for long with nothing but my own thoughts. Leta, Kianis and I had always kept ourselves busy with games, having parties with the nymphs, flirting with the beautiful demi-gods and immortal youths, teasing the satyrs, singing, dancing, swimming, running, having picnics, holding contests, and engaging in a myriad of other activities that filled our days and nights.

I wondered, as I sat with my eyes inclined to the heavens, if I would have any friends left at all. Would Leta and Kianis tell the nymphs and other immortals that they no longer counted Persephone among their friends? Or would I simply be forgotten, as an awkward inconvenience? I realized, with sadness, that it didn’t really matter to me now. I had been bored with the constant fluttering for a while now. Were any of them truly my friends, or was I just another lovely goddess with whom to make merry? I focused my emotion down through my palms and into the ground, feeling its power begin to push against mine. I hadn’t done this for a while; I usually just let the energy flow out from the soles of my feet, causing small blooms to appear behind me in a trail, or else I’d sweep the tips of my fingers across the grass in a circle as I sat, creating a newborn garden around my companions and I. I hadn’t directly tapped into the power of the earth since my youth, when mother trained me in my arts.

I felt its resistance at first; such a huge amount of power keeping itself locked into matter had to be held back with some force. Its source danced with mine for a moment, pushing and pulling and swirling around, and then I broke through. The earth opened to me, and I felt its power shoot up through my arms and move through the rest of my body as we fused together. I concentrated, keeping it in check, keeping it from overwhelming me or sapping me completely. I focused, digging my fingers into the dirt, and felt the stalks begin to break through the surface. I kept my eyes closed, feeling them rise all around me. They were huge, some of them bigger around than my hands could grasp. The plants encircled me and overshadowed me, forming a canopy. I had created a small grove, a private sanctuary that encompassed me and the three barrels which had once been a retreat for myself and my dearest friends.

I lifted my hands, though my connection with the earth did not sever. I continued to be attuned to it as I opened my eyes and looked around at what I had helped to grow. The branches of flowering trees swayed in the air a few feet above me, the saplings’ blooms just beginning to open. Moonflower bushes grew all around the perimeter, releasing their sweet fragrance into the air. The sun had set completely, now, and the moonlight played off their white skin, causing them to glow. All was peaceful. I had just closed my eyes again, and was breathing in the sweet air and letting my spirit rise, when I heard footsteps approach.

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