I don't think he even notices me anymore.
Oh, there are still days when he will sit by me and stroke my once soft hair, and caress my once warm cheek and tell me that he's so very sorry. At first I felt sad at my father's remorse, and longed to hold him too and tell him that I didn't blame him. But then I noticed that he only visited me when there was an audience watching him from the balcony.
And now that the servants are getting tired of polishing me, I have bird shit on my arms and the palace dogs piss on my legs; I'm a little less forgiving.
I also noticed that despite his professed sorrow at turning me into a golden statue, he has not asked Pan to reverse his powers and make me flesh again. But anger is futile, so now I just wish that he had given me the cursed embrace when I was indoors. I look horribly silly with my arms outstretched and a stupid looking grin on my face. Besides, winter is coming and I do not fancy having to stand in the rain, wind and snow.
So I started to pray. I'm not a very religious person. My mother had always made sure that I honored the gods and the spirits of nature properly and my tutors took great care in instructing me the proper homage I need to pay to prevent disaster from visiting upon me. But given the choice between going to the temple on a rainy day or staying at home to munch on figs, well, let's just say that my fondness for figs is greater then my fear of being struck by a thunderbolt. And, you would think that after being turned into a gold statue without any provocation would make you lose religion, but when you're standing in a rather insipid courtyard, saying a few prayers doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
I was gazing at the moon, remembering the fragrance of the night jasmine, when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. Bored beyond tears (which I can never again shed), I strained to see what was there, while knowing that my vision as well as the rest of me has been frozen in place. Even the pointless scrambling of the squirrels is wonderful entertainment now.
Suddenly, a tall golden man stood in front of me. He wore a dark red tunic and cape that looked awkward against his gold skin. Then I realized - he was golden, just like me! Did Father decide that having one golden child in his courtyard wasn't enough? And now wanted to have two to put on a show with? Perversely, I became upset at the idea. Although I do not relish being a statue, I did find some small solace in knowing that I was unique. Besides, at least my father now spends more time with me then I did when I was flesh and blood.
"Don't be upset at me little one."
He spoke! His lips were moving and that's when I noticed that his eyes were a beautiful amber, not the cold, hard, frozen gold like mine now were. His hair was free flowing and not locked into place. What wonder was this? How could he move? Suddenly I felt fear. For although I know that I'm more durable now as a statue then when I was warm, sweet flesh, gold is not indestructible and I shuddered to think about all the figs I ate instead of visiting the temple. Could this be some vengeful god finally taking notice of my fondness for figs?
"Oh, my errant little fig eater," he laughed, "there you are! Sister Artemis was most distraught when she hadn't seen you, and bade me to find you."
I stared at him, wondering if madness had finally set in. Cousin Cassandra and Ithpia both had a touch of it, so I suppose it's only natural that I too would become insane. I wasn’t sure if I should be thrilled or saddened. On one hand, insanity would make my imprisonment much more bearable. On the other, hadn't fate dealt me enough troubles?
"No, you are not mad," he grinned, "well, not any more mad then any mortal would be after being turned into a golden statue."
I stared at him in fascination. Who was this young god? He mentioned the Goddess Artemis. Was he one of her Handmaidens? I would have laughed if I could.
He grimaced. "A Handmaiden? I don't think so. Sister Artemis requires all of her Handmaidens to be virgins…and well…"
If I could, my blush would have been hot enough to rival even that of Apollo's chariot. Apollo! Could this be the god Apollo? He did call Artemis his sister, and he was golden as Apollo was purported to be. Inside my golden shell I trembled. Golden Apollo was known for his quick "justice" on hapless maidens.
He laughed. "Oh no, I am not humorless Apollo. I am Hermes, the Herald of the Gods of Mount Olympus. Bringer of dreams and patron of wayward travelers and inspiration of healers."
The God Hermes! I remember refusing to give the little basket of oranges my brothers had given to me for his temple. I wonder if he remembered this now? But even more terrifying - wasn't Hermes also the God of Trickery and Lies? What use did he have for me - the backcountry daughter of a greedy king? Phrygia was not an over wealthy nor sophisticated country. Great grandfather Gordius was just a poor countryman himself, before he tied the famous knot.
Hermes frowned and looked at me quizzically and rather impatiently.
"Little Eylsas, have I done you harm? I merely announce who I am, and you tremble in fear with suspicions aroused. And you mortals wonder why the wrath of the gods are visited upon you! Bah. I don’t know why I even bother." And with that, he turned, and walked away.
WAIT! My mind screamed, please don’t go, I begged. I really never encountered a god before - and after being turned into a statue by Pan's gift; I have become leery of the gods' attention. Hermes must have heard me, because he turned back around, all smiles and charm again. In a way, I suppose he was much like my brothers. As princes of Phrygia, they were quite spoilt and could turn from a kitten to a tiger in a blink.
"You're much better angry then groveling," he said with a grin, "but that's neither here nor there. I suppose you have good reason to be shy. I came to bear you greetings from Artemis."
Artemis? Greetings from a goddess? Albeit, of all the gods and goddesses, Artemis was my favorite. I loved the hunt, and by naming her as my patron, I had staved off the marriage my father had arranged for me. But marrying a man that I did not know, and never saw before, doesn't seem nearly as bad as it once did. Perspective.
"Yes, Artemis sends you her greetings. She has heard your prayers to her, and bade me to help her fair fig eater." He sat down on the little bench beside me and looked pensively at me. "Why does your father not ask Pan to reverse the gift? And turn you back to flesh? As pretty as you are now, I would think that you would be more entertaining in the flesh."
I almost barked out a sharp laugh. Father? Beg Pan to give up his gift of riches? His sorrow and remorse would never extend that far. My brothers now ride around the countryside, abducting maidens, freely throwing gold at their distraught fathers. But my loving mother has refused to speak to father, punishing him by spending his gold almost as fast as he can make it. Doesn't seem very effective, but I'm sure she knows best.
Hermes gave me a warm kiss on my cold hard cheek. It was the first time I had felt anything since I had been turned like this. Quickly the heat spread throughout my body and I could feel the tingling of my fingers and then my toes! Oh sweet warm flesh! I never thought that I would ever feel the kiss of the moon upon my skin again! And then, I could move! My legs were leaden and my arms felt absurdly heavy, and after being frozen for so long, I was like a baby, falling to my knees, having to learn how to crawl all over again.
Hermes laughed and helped me up. I reveled in the heat of his hands, touching my skin, and looked up at him with awe and adoration.
"T-t-thank you," I croaked; my throat protested its long disuse.
He smiled and offered me his hand for a dance. So with a laugh, I jumped to the bench and started to dance to the music of the moonbeams. Hermes watched me with a look in his eyes, but I didn't care. I was luxuriating in movement, in the dance of motion. All these years I had rebelled against the restrictions placed upon me, but now, I knew that freedom was in my heart. And so I danced until my stiff legs ached, and sang until my throat was raw. I plucked the ripe pears from the tree in the courtyard and ate and ate until I was stuffed, my mouth celebrating the sensation of taste.
As I grew tired, and sat on the bench, I looked up to see the sun starting to rise. I took immeasurable pleasure at the idea of having the sun finally warm my cold skin. As I lifted my face to feel the sun, I felt my body go into a compulsion to stand up and into the courtyard, arms stretched as I have had, as a statue.
"What? What is happening?" I cried. Hermes shook his head sadly at me.
"You only become flesh and blood under the gaze of Artemis's moonlight. At dawn, you will become a statue once more. Without Pan's grace, there is nothing more I can do."
"But, he's your son!" I protested, the joy of having freedom forgotten at the horror having to be encased back into hard metal. "Surely you can convince Pan to change me back?"
Hermes looked at me and shook his head.
Then I felt my legs grow leaden - not from the long disuse of my muscles, but from the burden of my curse. The sun came up and froze me into place.
"I am truly sorry, but not every gift is without price. Although you adore your freedom, it is only lifted by the grace of Artemis's will, by the pale of the moon. But the curse did not go anywhere, so it went back to whence it came."
And with that, left on his winged sandals.
Despite having been turned the curse reverted, I thanked Artemis with all my heart, glad for even the tiniest reprieve that she and Hermes had given me.
As the sun slowly dragged itself through the sky, my mind called out to Apollo and begged him to hurry his ride. I could not wait until moonrise once again, where I would have the freedom of motion, and the joy of stunted living.
Then I heard a rustling. At first I thought that maybe Hermes decided to visit me during the day, but when the figure moved into sight, it was just my father.
"Oh Eylsas, my poor daughter," he cried. I tried to look around to see his audience, but for once I did not see anyone. Not even a servant, just a wayward scampering squirrel.
"I had the most horrible dream last night! I was turned into a golden statue like you! I could not move, nor could I call out to anyone for help. Trapped! Trapped within my own skin and body. I thought I would go mad."
I gazed on at him dispassionately.
"Is this how it is for you, my dear Eylsas? I am truly sorry," he cried as he broke down and sobbed, "I never thought of how it would be for you…please…please forgive me." As he left, I stared at the squirrels playing by the trees, and wished that my life was just as simple.
Finally, Apollo's chariot finished its path across the sky, and it was finally moonrise. As the rays touched me, I could feel my limbs once again. I took a deep breath of the fragrant air and danced again in the moonlight. As I danced, I waited for Hermes return, but as the night waned, and I grew bored of being alone, I got up my courage and dared to traipse into the house.
It was strange, walking into my own home. I felt like a guest…a stranger…an intruder. I heard every creak in the house, my footsteps sounded like thundering hooves. Slowly and quietly I crept throughout the house, the memories of every corner and nook and cranny seemed to have belonged to someone else. Guilty for daring to lay claim on what is mine.
In the back quarters, the servants quietly slept on their cots. My brothers sprawled all over their suite of rooms, smelling of horses and sweat. A string of drool dripped from my youngest brother's mouth, looking sweet and childlike. I glided to my room, once so pretty and delicate, was now a musky husk that had been stripped and turned into a rough storage. My mother slept in her own quarters, the room gilded and perfumed. And I couldn't resist, I went into my father's rooms as well. He looked as if was sleeping peacefully in his bed, golden by his blessed touch. With all the gilt and gold, only upon closer inspection did I see that he too was golden. Like me. I wondered if he too was trapped in his own body, but the mind still alive? I felt guilt at causing my father suffering, but reasoning told me that he was asleep and wouldn't even be aware of the change.
After the sun came up, and I was standing mindlessly in the courtyard, arms stretched and hardly able to wait for the night, my father came rushing out of the house and into the courtyard, his hair disheveled and his eyes wide and red.
"Oh darling! Darling! I had that horrible dream again! That I couldn't move!" he said, clutching at me, "I'm so sorry darling, but you must stop it! You must stop torturing me!" And then he ran back into the house.
Me? Torture him? The softness that I felt for him quickly crumbled. The sorrow that I did not know I could have for the man that kept me imprisoned in my golden body was gone. For once joyful that I had this frozen body, to keep me from crying and to feel the pain of loss.
Then why does my heart ache so?
When the night finally came, and I started to come back alive, I did not take any pleasure in the cool night air upon my skin, nor of the scent of sweet jasmine.
I turned around. Hermes stood right behind me, with a bemused smile upon his face, and a little clay jar of figs. I glared at him.
"Lost your appetite for figs?" he asked as he pulled one, especially plump one from the jar and bit into its juicy sweetness.
"I'm not in the mood for figs," I replied. I was angry, but not sure if I was more angry with my father for being so heartless, or Hermes for giving me the boon to see his coldness. However, it is impossible to remain upset when Hermes is in a playful mood, I learned. It was a splendid picnic, that I did not even resent the rising of the sun. I got into my position, almost glad for the restfulness of my state, when my father, once again, hair mussed, eyes red and wild came barging into the courtyard.
"Why?" he cried, "why are you tormenting me so? Why must you do this? I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please stop it!"
What did he expect me to say? It was not as if I had the power to speak nor move. Not even to comfort him. If I was so inclined. I just stood there, while my father clutched and pawed at me, sobbing incoherently.
I suppose that I would have been more sympathetic to his plight if he showed any compassion toward me. But it was he that turned me into a statue, and now he blames me for trying to steal moments of my life back?
A good filial daughter would have asked Hermes to take this gift away. To give up the lost moments of the night so that her father could rest in peace, and accept her fate with good grace and forgiving spirit. I decided in that moment, that I was not a good filial daughter.
Oh, I stilled loved my father. I remember the time when I snuck into the stables and tried to learn how to ride. Mother was furious, but father just laughed and told her to let me be. I remember all the times that he would sneak a bit of roasted fowl to my rooms when my mother was punishing me for some unladylike transgressions. The bonds of the past can not be broken so easily.
If asked, I would gladly lay my life for my father. He is my father, after all. But this un-death, I just can not bear! I am weak. I am not strong enough to last eternity like this. And now, he blames me for trying to purloin a few precious moments of a life.
If I could have, I would have wept. Not for myself, but for...since I was changed, I have often been melancholy, but for my own loss. But now, I wanted to weep for the loss of my past.
That night, when the moon once again rose, and I felt the cool autumn night air, I did not bother to breath in the fragrances of life, nor taste the fruit that hung so temptingly on the trees. I went directly into the house, and to my father's room. I expected to find him lying in bed, but instead, I found his figure, sitting up in his huge golden bed, golden himself, staring ahead, with a touch of fright in his face.
I sat on the bed and gently touched my father's face. I didn't say anything, but I just sat there until the sun came up and the compulsion to leave was too great.
I stood in the courtyard, arms stretched, saddened, frustrated, but no longer angry. I suppose I was waiting for my father to come out to see me again. To cry and wail, and then maybe, I could finally feel remorse. But he never came out, and my only visitors were the squirrels.
The next night, I went back to visit my father. Once again, he was huddled on his bed, staring sightlessly into the night. I wanted to tell him how I felt, but words never came, and so another night passed, with me sitting silently next to the golden statue that is my father.
For a week I visited him every night wordlessly, and every morning, I waited for him to see me. To say the words that I needed to hear. But he never came, and I never spoke. Each trapped in our curse.
"Aren't you bored yet?" a familiar voice asked me. He was out of my vision, so I couldn't see him, but I could never mistaken that smooth mellow voice.
Hermes! I squealed in delight. I hadn't realized how much I had missed him.
"No need to shout, little one," he chuckled, coming into my view. "I can hear you just fine. But, you haven't answered me. Aren't you bored?"
"Yes, bored, silly wench! I give you the power of life, and you spend it sitting on your father's bed? Aren't you bored yet? Especially when the harvest moon has been calling?" I longed to toss my long hair back and give him a scornful look. As much as I had missed him, I had forgotten how nosey he is.
"Not nosey, just concerned. It's not natural for you to waste…ahhh…I see, now…"
"You. And your father's bed. Are you by any chance, related to Elektra?"
My scathing comments would have shocked poor mother beyond recognition. I learned quite a lot by hanging around the stable hands. But Hermes only laughed.
"Oh, you are such a delight! Come now, you are not going to spend another lovely evening sitting in that stuffy room, are you? Come with me. Sister Artemis misses you. You will come, won't you?"
Goddess Artemis? Wants to see me? I was glad for my golden body, otherwise I would have fell to the ground trembling.
"Pooh. You never reacted like that with me," Hermes teased, "but I guess that's what I get for not turning hapless mortals into deer. I'll be back for you at dusk."
His laughter trailed away with him.
Finally, the sun had once again set, and just as I was getting mobility again, Hermes arrived.
"Come, come, Artemis is impatient. And it does no good to keep a goddess waiting." Without a word, he wrapped his arms around me, and with a leap, we were up in the air! At first I was terrified, and wrapped my arms tightly around Hermes' neck, but he laughed and coaxed me to open my eyes. When I did and looked down, the world was at my feet! The amber fields of wheat and grain were swaying in the night wind, broken only by stretches of luxuriant green that were the orchards and forests.
"Look there," Hermes pointed, the movement causing me to tighten my grip on him. His deep chuckles made me clutch to him tighter.
"You're simply horrid! Not every one is an immortal god, you know," my errant tongue scolded before I could control myself.
"I apologize," Hermes said, but his wide grin did not seem contrite, "but you really are just so entertaining!" I wanted to pout at him, but the dazzling scene below me, and Hermes' infectious joy, distracted me.
Soon, we moved away from the rocky plains and onto the mountains. Shivering in the chill air, Hermes wrapped his warm cloak around me and held me close. My heart was racing, but I reminded myself that this was a god, not a young princeling from a backwater country. If he knew of my thoughts, he did not show it. And before I could worry about it, we descended down into a copse of trees that surrounded a crisp clear lake.
"Sister, I am here," Hermes announced, taking off his cloak and sandals.
"Yes, I see that. No need to state the obvious little brother."
I looked around, but could not see where the melodic voice had come from. It was not like Hermes' mellow and charming voice, but rather, the sound called to mind soothing moonlight and excitement of the chase. I shook my head and looked at Hermes.
He just stood there and grinned, before removing his tunic and without another word, dove into the lake.
"Hermes! How dare you?" the voice screamed.
"Oh Sister, stop being so mysterious and talk to her!" Hermes laughed as he came back up to the surface.
"Still, that is my pool!" but the moonbeam that was shining beside me shimmered and the pale figure of Artemis appeared.
Contrary to what I have been taught, she was not beautiful. Her hair was long, but it was unkempt and wild. Her slim figure showed unfeminine muscles, and her large, strong hands had calluses upon them.
"So I am not beautiful?" she said.
"Oh no! I am just an unworthy girl," I said, quickly abasing myself at her feet. When will I ever learn prudence?
"Do get up," she snapped, "I didn't have you fetched just to talk to the top of your head. Where is your vim? That tart tongue of yours?"
I looked up and saw her smiling face, and suddenly, I knew why the poets and the priests declared her beautiful. Her beauty was not of the conventional kind, the type that would drive men insane with lust as Aphrodite is said to be able to do. Her face was broad and tanned like a commoner, but there was a touch of wildness in her, the spirit of the free that transformed her rather ordinary looks, into something beyond. I could see why men have risked being turned into stags for a glimpse of her.
"So. Changed your mind have you? Glad to see that I have your approval, little one."
I stared at her dumbly and nodded. She tossed her head back and laughed. "My poor errant little fig eater. The gods have not been kind to you, have they? Come, let us swim. This lake is scared to me, and will refresh you." She glared at Hermes before looking back at me; "it was pristine and unfouled by the touch of man. But…well, no matter, come and let us swim."
Unabashedly, she took off her garments and dove into the lake, her strong, well muscled body looked like the silver flash of a fish, slicing through the air. I'm not body proud, but I couldn’t help blushing, and Hermes' comical leer only made my face redder. He laughed at my discomfort and then turned away. I removed my dress and gingerly walked into the lake.
I had not swum since I was seven years old, and my mother decreed that I was too old for such behavior. I promptly sank. Artemis quickly swam over to me and helped me up. Before long, under her tutelage and Hermes' laughing gaze, I was taught to swim. Although I doubt that I would ever be as graceful as either one of them, at least I would not become fish food, just yet.
"It's getting late," Hermes said, interrupting my lessons with Artemis, "we must leave now."
I looked up and saw the night sky was already changing color. I grabbed my clothes and threw them on, in my haste, forgetting about modesty. But compared to Artemis's whipcord tight body, my pale carcass seemed flabby, and did not look like the slender and graceful body that I was once famed for. I turned to thank Artemis, but she was already gone, but the sound of the hunting horns blared in the faraway echoes.
"She's gone to the hunt. She's abrupt like that, but she's honest, and you can always tell what she's thinking." I nodded dumbly, how is a mere mortal to comment on the doings of the gods?
My self-absorption with my golden status had made me forget many things about life.
"Thank you," I murmur. Hermes just smiled and held me close to him, as he flew me home.
Once I got home, and the sun started to rise, I waited for its touch to turn me back. As I stood, waiting for the sun to rise, I felt the heat of the sun's kiss, and the sounds of the waking household. I looked around, but nothing was happening to me.
I stood and waited, but my flesh was still soft and warm. After standing dumbly for quite some time, finally, out of curiosity, I went into the house. The servants were bustling, preparing breakfast, but when they saw me, they let out shrieks of surprise and fear. They were a religious and superstitious lot, and when I was turned into a statue, they had basically written me off for dead. Now here I was, my thick hair still damp from my swim, and my skin a warm glow from the sun.
Rather then try to calm them down, I went to the quarters where my father slept. Could it be that he has finally felt sorrow at my plight and asked Pan to remove his boon and restore me back to flesh and blood? I suppose I should have been elated, but after dancing with Hermes in the moonlight, and swimming with Artemis in the wilds, the idea of returning to a common place life, seemed rather…boring.
I went into my father's room, but he was not in bed, and he normally was. I looked around and found him sitting in front of his desk.
He was still golden.
I walked to him, frightened of what I would find, but bizarrely elated by the thought. I suppressed my uncharitable thoughts. He was seated before his desk, staring into a little mirror that looked back at him. The golden cotton mittens that were made for him, to prevent any accidents (where were these when I foolishly ran into his arms?) were laid neatly beside the mirror.
His bare hand was touching his cheek, but the look on his face…
My sorrow and remorse and guilt at driving my father to this point ate and stabbed at me. I was out gallivanting, while my father sat here, plagued by the nightmares that I had caused.
I am at war with myself.
Finally, reluctantly, I leave. I ran out into the apple orchards beyond the house. I ran past there to the olive grove where workers were already out, plucking the ripe fruit to be pickled and pressed. I ran and ran until I had no more breath, and the burning of my legs forced me to collapse.
I was deep in the forest. I stuck my hand, deep into the moist, moss covered soil, and cried.
I cried for myself, and for my father, for our relationship and the loss of everything we have found dear. I cried with joy and relief, with the feeling of freedom.
"Silly girl," Hermes said, coming out of nowhere, "is this not what you wanted?"
But I only cried harder.
"Tell me, tell me what you want," Hermes murmured, his voice soothing and calm.
Hermes looked at me with wide eyes, then laughed his deep throaty laugh. "You really are such a delight! What melodrama!" His words wounded me, and made me feel small and petty and insignificant. But the truth of it, was that I did not know what I wanted. Before all of this, I thought that I only wanted to be left alone, to hunt and worship Artemis. Then after I was turned to a statue, I just wanted to be changed back to flesh and blood. But since my father's words, and the time I spent with both Hermes and Artemis, I no longer knew what I wanted, nor if what I wanted could ever be put into words.
How do you describe wet?
But Hermes understands. I suppose that being a god is more then just tormenting the life out of mortals. For, how can you torment them, if you don't first understand them better then themselves?
I was too exhausted to run back, so Hermes took me back to my home. The entire household was in an uproar, and my mother was crying decorously while my brothers were trying to find someone to blame.
When I walked in, with Hermes by my side, everyone stopped and stared at me.
"You! You are the one that did this to father! Begone, foul spirit!" cried one of my brothers. I looked to my mother, with whom I always felt a kinship; fellow women in a man's household. But she looked at me with the same loathing and horror that my brothers did.
"What are we going to do now? With father gone, where are we going to get the gold?" murmured my youngest brother, my father's favorite.
My eldest brother and my mother both shot him a look. While everyone was thinking the same thing, such crassness could not be spoken. Surely not in front of a stranger, as I now was. Hermes put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I looked up and he smiled. Not the charming smile, nor his one of fake innocence, but one of kindness. I walked over to my father, Hermes' presence preventing my brothers from touching me, and kissed him.
As he turned back into flesh, I turned back into gold. I tried to stand up straight and look dignified. If I was to remain a statue for all eternity, I was not going to be stuck once again in a rather stupid looking position.
But I didn't stiffen up. Instead, Hermes took my hand, and without a word, leapt into the air and up into the sky.
"Oh, do you like being a statue?"
"I am a god, after all, little one."
I clung to Hermes tightly, as he soared into the sky.
to Dreams of a Muse