Picture: “The Fates” by Nefertara 2014
Atropos stared at the image in the shallow dish and frowned. Things were becoming unclear, distorted. She tapped the rim a couple of times in frustration and then had to wait until the ripples subsided. She peered closer and saw figures begin to appear.
She heard a gasp from beside her and then a cough.
“Atropos?” said Clotho.
“Hush,” said Atropos, still staring into the dish. “I can see something. The view has changed.”
“Yes, about that…” said Lachesis.
“There are three others now present. Women by the looks of things. One of them is bending over something.” She swallowed and slowly stood up. She was on a beach, warm sand tickling her toes. Atropos took a calming breath and turned to look at the Olympians who were staring at them.
“Greetings, sisters,” said Athena striding over. “So glad that you were able to come.”
“How…” began Atropos, “Why are we here?”
“I summoned you,” said Apollo, joining Athena. Hera marched up alongside.
“What’s going on?” asked Hera. “You’re The Fates, aren’t you? I thought there were four of you.”
“Our youngest sister decided to follow a different path,” said Clotho.
“I think they have some explaining to do,” said Athena, folding her arms.
“This has nothing to do with us. We merely observe,” protested Atropos.
“You observe the weaving of the threads that you spun, measured, cut and dyed,” said Athena. “Everything is prepared by you. You know something about what has been happening and I want to know what it is.”
“That’s not how it works, Athena,” countered Atropos. “We are separate from gods and mortals. We don’t get involved in the whys and wherefores. You have your threads, they have theirs,” she pointed at the Sun Barge crew, “and we have ours. We stay away, that’s the rule.”
Lachesis cleared her throat. “There’s been a bit of an accident, Atropos.” She held up a tangle of threads, the silver shine of The Fates’ strands clearly visible against the short, dull mortal threads and the long golden deities’.
“Oh, brilliant.” Atropos threw up her hands. “You clumsy cretin, Lachesis. Now we’re part of it. No wonder Sunny Boy here was able to summon us. I give up, I really do.”
“Well, perhaps we should just tell them and get it all over with?” said Clotho.
“Tell us what?” snapped Hera, losing what patience she had left.
Atropos sighed and shrugged. “Fine. I’m fed up with the lot of you anyway.” She fixed her eyes on Hera. “It’s mainly because of Zeus, but really it’s all of you.”
“It goes back to Pandora,” explained Clotho.
“Ah, thought so,” nodded Apollo, sagely.
“What about her?” asked Athena, ignoring him.
Atropos smiled and raised a finger. “First, dear Athena, what do you remember of Pandora?”
“Well, she opened the jar and released all evil into the world.”
“And you, Hera?”
“She was our poison gift to humanity, a counter to the fire stolen from us.”
“She was the first woman to walk the Earth.”
The Olympians looked at each other in confusion and began to dispute the others’ versions.
“Apollo, how could she be the first woman when humanity already existed?” exclaimed Athena.
Hera was busy asking what ‘this jar thing’ was all about.
Atropos shushed them until the only sound was the wind in the trees and the lapping of the waves. “You’re all partially right, but mostly all wrong. The gods didn’t give Pandora to humanity, nor did Pandora release ‘evil’, exactly; and she was and wasn’t the first woman. It’s complicated.”
“What are you wittering on about?” asked Hera. “Be clear, crone.”
The three Fates recoiled slightly and a clipped frostiness appeared in the eldest sister’s speech. “It’s you. Pandora released the gods upon the world. You are the ‘evil’, you are the poison gift. The Olympians are the problem that needs putting back in the jar.”
The three gods stared at her.
“Look,” said Clotho, “there was a time when all you knew was Olympus, yes?”
The gods nodded without conviction.
“And then,” continued Lachesis, “Prometheus the Titan gave fire to humanity-”
“They don’t need the entire back story,” cut in Atropos, “we don’t have the time.”
“Why?” asked Athena. “Do you have to be somewhere else?”
“Alright, let’s just say I don’t have the inclination. Let’s just get this over with. Pandora pops up, accidentally shows you how to access Earth and then we get centuries of Olympians interfering with the lives of mortals.”
“And?” said Hera. “So what?”
“You don’t belong here,” said Clotho.
“If you persist in visiting the mortal realm you will become mortal,” explained Lachesis.
An awkward silence fell over the group. Athena turned to look at the rest of the Olympians, some of whom were tending to Artemis. Others were chatting to Dionysus and the Sun Barge crew. She pulled her attention back to The Fates.
“So why now?”
“Why not?” said Atropos. “Eventually the right events and people aligned and everything clicked into place.”
“More or less,” said Lachesis.
“What do you mean, ‘more or less’?” said Hera.
“Well, you had an opportunity to end this yourself, Hera,” said Atropos with a cold smile. “Zeus was the worst offender. And Ares was always looking to start a war somewhere. Olympus needed a calmer hand, less intervention. There was a chance that the necessary hand would be yours.”
“Instead,” carried on Clotho, “something went awry. You became fixated on these mortals and your daughter has initiated a conflict that will dwarf all previous wars. It seems that Olympians just can’t resist meddling.”
“So some tweaking was necessary. A little spinning and weaving and here we are.”
“You’re saying that we can’t step foot on Earth again, or we face the chance of dying?” asked Apollo.
“Yes, well done, Apollo,” said Atropos with just a touch of condescension. “You can stay on Olympus or in the Underworld, or anywhere else in the Heavens.”
“Fair enough, fine by me.” He clapped his hands. “Shall we be off then?”
“No, wait,” said Athena, clearly disturbed by the thought of banishment. “Mortals need gods and goddesses, for direction and inspiration. What will they become without us?”
“More rational?” suggested Lachesis.
“More bland. More barbarous,” shot back Athena.
A strange sound wafted over the beach, causing all assembled on the sand to look around for the source. A horn blared, a drum began to beat and bells could be heard. Stepping out from the trees, a little further up the beach from where the Sun Barge lay, came a procession of women, some playing instruments, others dancing. Their clothes were bright and some were clearly of exotic origin.
The Fates stared at the woman leading the way.
“Is that…?” said Clotho.
“Yes,” said Lachesis. “I knew she couldn’t resist a good beach.”
“Greetings all,” cried the woman.
“Do you know this person?” asked Hera.
“It’s our younger sister, Chroma,” explained Clotho.
“Sisters, sisters, so good to see you again,” beamed the woman, “but I’m afraid I am no longer your Chroma. I have taken on a new identity. I am Polydora.”
“Are you now?” said Atropos, unamused. “What in Hades are you doing, girl?”
Polydora ignored her elder sibling and span around gesturing her retinue to assemble. “Come, Olympians, come mortals, hear the news.”
“Do you know anything about this?” Clotho whispered to Lachesis.
“Not a thing. It looks entertaining, though.”
“My sisters, I hope you liked my final piece of colouring?”
The remaining Fates looked at each other blankly.
“The mortals? The ones who started this particular chain of events?”
“What about them?” asked Atropos.
“You see? And that’s why I left. Let’s call it artistic differences; I have art and you don’t. It’s just form and function for you three. Look at their threads again.”
The Fates pulled up the threads of Micon and Philippus. The two men leaned in closer to get a better look at their destinies.
The threads began as a dull grey but the sections currently being examined were vibrant colours, one turquoise and the other a deep orange.
“Look at the nymph’s too,” said Polydora, beaming.
That thread showed elements of turquoise and plenty of orange.
“Is this why the plan went wrong?” asked Atropos.
“It didn’t go wrong at all. I improved it. Didn’t I, girls?” Her followers nodded in agreement.
“Who are these people?” asked Athena.
“Well,” began Polydora, “after I left The Fates I considered going solo, but thought that really I ought to seek out like-minded souls. This is my arts collective. We’re called The Muses. I’m sort of their manager.”
“Where on Earth did you find them?” asked Apollo, eyeing the women up appreciatively.
“Does it matter? There are a few Mediterranean nymphs and other demi-goddesses from Egypt, Persia and Ethiopia. Where they’re from isn’t important, what matters is what they represent.”
“Which is?” sighed Hera, somewhat bored by the theatrics.
“Music, dance, poetry, art!”
“Love it,” said Apollo.
Atropos sniffed and looked away.
“Polydora,” said Athena as patiently as she could, “that’s lovely, but why are you here?”
“Why? To replace you, of course. Not just you, obviously; all Olympians.”
Athena blinked. “What do you mean, ‘replace us’?”
“Well, you’re all off to Olympus.”
There were murmurings from the rest of the gods.
“I’d best break the news to them,” said Apollo and began explaining that their presence on Earth was risking their immortality. A few, either through fear or boredom, popped away from the beach back to their more natural environment. Most remained, fascinated.
“But we can’t leave,” protested Athena. “We’re crucial to mortals. We inspire them to great things.”
“Never inspired me to nuffink,” said a voice behind Micon.
“Well, you can stay and risk death and decay on Earth, or potter off to your heavenly abodes for eternity and let us take over.”
“How can your band of misfits rise to the highest standard of godly behaviour?”
“You’re on dodgy ground if you’re citing godly behaviour,” chuckled the artist formerly known as Chroma. “We’ve been watching you for aeons. Zeus and his rapacious behaviour? The petty slights that you wildly overact against? You haven’t been inspiring the mortals, they’ve been degrading you. Nothing you have done since you descended on Earth has been a true guide to perfect behaviour. At best you’re a mere reflection of humanity. You’ve been tainting this world, and tainted by it, for far too long.”
Hera had been watching Athena, the wisest of Olympus, completely thrown by this lightweight artistic piece of fluff. There was, she conceded, a lot of truth in what Polydora had to say. And it was true that her main aim was always to control Olympus; she’d let her obsession with the mortals blind her and tried to use them as a reason to rule. She didn’t need reasons any more.
Athena was continuing her argument with Polydora. “So what do you propose to stand in our place?”
“Statues, icons, the usual stuff to ensure continuity. But the first great work will be a story.”
“A story?” scoffed Athena.
“Stories are incredibly powerful. From a certain point of view the gods are just stories that got out of hand.”
Athena spluttered but failed to pull together a coherent sentence. She bowed her head and accepted defeat.
Polydora raised her hands for silence. “The first story will be an epic poem of Micon and Nadina, how their love overcame the gods of Olympus.” Her Muses cheered. The Olympians seemed less impressed. “Their story will be passed down through the centuries and their fame will last forever.”
Philippus stepped forward, hand raised. “Erm, excuse me? Could it not be an epic poem of Micon and Philippus? Or the epic poem of The Crew of The Sun Barge?”
“Cor, yeah, that sounds like a story I’d like to hear,” agreed Xanthius. “But even better would be the epic poem of Galapera and Xanthius; ‘the love wot denied death’.”
“It wasn’t love, dear, it was laziness,” said Galapera.
“Fair enough,” agreed the dead sailor.
Micon shook his head. “I’m not an epic hero. I don’t feel like one and I don’t want to be one.”
“Even better!” said Polydora. She poked at his tatty clothes and transformed them into a golden tunic and a vibrant orange cloak. “The reluctant hero, upholding honour and love!”
Micon gripped his sword tightly in his hand and ground his teeth. He’d had enough of being controlled by others. He strode forward, held Polydora by the shoulder and raised the point of his sword to her throat. “Will you suffer the same injuries as mortals? As Olympians?”
Polydora smiled nervously. “I’m somewhat concerned that I might.”
“Good. Now perhaps you’ll actually listen to what I have to say. I’m not a hero, Nadina is. She’s overcome far more than me and Philippus. And I haven’t been upholding honour, we’ve just been trying to survive. Honour is something for kings and princes to boast about and betray. It means nothing compared to true friendship.” He looked at the rest of his crew. “I don’t know about you lot but I just want to be left alone and have a quiet life.”
The Sun Barge crew nodded in agreement, grinning and applauding his stand. The applause spread to some of the Olympians and the soldiers who minutes earlier had been their deadly enemies.
“Alright, alright,” conceded Polydora. “We won’t make you a hero. How about a secondary character?”
“But the story doesn’t work without you. My Muses were all ready to capture an epic story of love and heroism.”
“Find another story then.”
“Where am I going to find a suitable replacement? I’ve worked on this for weeks.”
“Ahem. If I may?” Sastrios gestured over to the soldiers waiting patiently to be allowed to leave. “They might be worth a punt, seeing as they’re off to fight a war. And that chap faced down Hera to save his comrade’s life.”
“Did he now?” Polydora looked at the soldiers and the two men still standing in front of the wary phalanx of troops. “Who are you? Who is your leader?”
The young man stepped forward. “My name is Achilles, prince of the Myrmidons. This is my captain, Patroclus.”
The Muses looked him up and down, murmuring their appreciation of his muscled appearance.
“Sisters,” said Polydora, “could you say whether Achilles here has an interesting back-story and a fate-line worthy of an epic poem?”
Lachesis was already looking him up. “Oh yes, definitely some material you could work with there,” she said with a grin. She handed the thread to Polydora who looked delighted.
“Are we all quite finished?” asked Hera.
“Yes, I think so,” said Polydora.
“Good. Now I believe it’s time to slay the mortals.”
Micon’s sword was at her breast before anyone had time to blink. “Just leave, Hera.”
Aphrodite, put her hand on Hera’s shoulder. “Let the lovers be together.”
“In Hades, perhaps.”
“No, let them live, Hera,” insisted Athena. “None of this was their doing. They were manipulated by Zeus, the Fates, everyone. You can be gracious and let them be.”
“What about the undead creature?” said Hera.
“His name’s Xanthius,” said Galapera. “You should show some more manners. A proper queen would be more respectful.”
“I have it in hand,” explained Dionysus. “I will take him to Hades when the time is right.”
Hera looked around at her audience and smiled tightly. “Fine. I may not be happy about it, considering the pain I have suffered, but revenge will not soothe my loss more than a moment. They can go unharmed.”
Micon’s sword tip dropped away from the goddess. “Thank you.”
Athena turned to Dionysus. “But what about you, God of Wine? Aren’t you coming back up to Olympus?”
Dionysus grinned. “I’ve never belonged on Olympus. My mother was mortal and I fit in down here. I’m fine with the consequences, before you ask,” he added,winking at the Sun Barge crew.
“Then, I think it is time for us to leave.” Athena bowed to Hera. “That is, if Hera, Queen of Olympus, wishes us all to return?”
Hera’s mood lifted, as Athena had planned. “Of course, Athena. You always give wise counsel.”
“I believe you should give a command to all immortals to remain in Olympus and never to mix with mortals for fear of death.”
“Indeed. I will ensure all know the laws. Earth will be out of bounds.”
“Dire warnings should be given, about how Artemis was wounded.”
“And how our Queen herself was knocked out of a tree by a slingshot and tipped overboard by a dead sailor.”
Hera glared at Athena and vanished back to Olympus.
Athena smiled, nodded to the crew of the Sun Barge and followed her queen. Within two breaths all of the Olympians had disappeared.
The Muses had surrounded Achilles, noting his physique for future reference. Polydora whispered in Patroclus’ ear and he raised his eyebrows. She nodded.
“Alright, men,” he commanded, “back to the ship.”
Soon there was just the Sun Barge crew and The Fates left on the beach.
“Well,” said Atropos grumpily, “that did not go as I expected.”
“No,” agreed Lachesis. “It was more fun than the Egyptians, though.”
“And we got the right outcome in the end,” added Clotho.
They gathered around the silver dish on its marble plinth and prepared to leave.
“Wait!” shouted Philippus. “Is that it?”
“What? You want more?” asked Atropos.
“No. I mean, is it over?”
“Things are never ‘over’, mortal,” said Clotho.
“But no-one wants to kill us anymore?”
Lachesis glanced at a few threads. “Not yet.”
Not knowing how to take that answer, Philippus asked one more question.
“Their threads are intertwined,” said Lachesis.
But, as he watched Micon and Nadina embrace, he knew that already.