I knew it was bad news when the front desk called to tell me that there was a satyr here to see me. The satyrs rarely left their grove these days, and it was only their more recent descendants that could truly pass as human. He wouldn’t have come this far to invite me home for a harvest celebration. I pulled aside my veil before I opened the door – all the satyrs were family to me, and I didn’t need to keep myself hidden.
He was a handsome young buck, flaming red hair and a sweet smile, but his eyes were swollen with tears, and he wore a wide black armband to signify he was in mourning. As soon as I opened the door, he dropped to one knee and saluted, one arm thumping into his chest and head bowed.
“For you, Lady of the Hearth,” he said, Scots accent thick with tears. I gestured and he stood, walking past me when I turned away from the door and passing me a small cream envelope. He staggered slightly, and I could see that he was having trouble maintaining the illusion of humanity.
“Make yourself at home, Connor,” I said, and he nodded. He flopped down in one of the leather lyre-backed chairs next to my brazier and closed his eyes, every line of his body screaming exhaustion. As he relaxed, the illusion faded, and the hooves became apparent, cracked and bloody. Poor dear looked like he had run across half of Europe, and that could mean only one thing.
I opened the folded note with hands that had gone numb.
I fear I have not much time left. Since you went back to Greece, each day weighs heavier and heavier on these old bones, and without you, my hearth and heart grow cold. It was my greatest joy to be your Consort, my most radiant treasure, and I hope that one day I will be able to see your face again and feel your touch warm my bones and stir my blood. Come home soon, if your brother will permit. It is more than the Fates owe an old centaur like me, but I pray that I get to see you again before I go to my final rest.
All my love,
“When?” I could hear my voice sounded normal, which I found strange. It wasn’t every day one lost a companion of centuries, and my voice shouldn’t sound the way it always did.
“A month after you left, my lady,” Connor said, his voice cracking with tiredness. “He started declinin’ right after you left, but he went peacefully at the end. Just went to sleep and never woke up. We checked on him as you ordered, but one night after supper, he just went to sleep, and when we came to bring him his wee nip of whiskey in the morning wi’ his breakfast, he was gone, and there was a great big fine oak tree in the clearin’ where he slept.”
“Thank you, Connor, take your ease. You have done your clan proud, and I won’t forget it.” I had been afraid this would happen – I had a sneaking suspicion that Chiron had only lasted as long as he did because of his constant proximity to me – but when Zeus sends a summons, you have to have a better reason to refuse it than “my consort will die if I leave him alone”.
I stroked the letter once before folding it back up. I remembered Chiron teaching many an ancient Greek hero to read and write, and he had always had a reverence for the written word. I would treasure these, his last.
Walking over to my desk, I slipped the note into one of the cubbyholes before joining Connor by the fire, stopping only to pull out a stone bottle of whiskey that predated World War I.
The tradition in ancient times had been to pour a few drops of wine out before any feast to honor the gods, and me in particular – hell, Homer even said that “For without you, mortals hold no banquet, – where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last.’ – but tonight, the first drops were for my beloved Chiron, and I poured the offering of whiskey into the brazier. He had always insisted that I get the first taste of any bottle opened in his presence, and I remembered opening this bottle the night before I left. He had insisted I have the first glass as always, and I had told him to stop being an idiot. The memory stung, and I took a breath as it dug its talons in.
The flames burned brilliant blue, the color of Scottish skies in the summer, and I summoned a pair of hammered bronze cups for myself and Connor, and filled them to the brim with the water of life. Uisge beatha. I had laughed when I heard that the first time. I didn’t think I would be laughing for awhile. We toasted the fire with raised cups and drank deeply.
“To Chiron, teacher of heroes, wisest and justest of all centaurs – may you find your reward in Elysia,” Connor said, and I nodded.
The whiskey burned through the choking feeling in my throat, and I began to weep. Connor stared at the fire, exhausted, smelling of the breath of the forest and the mild goat-ish scent that I associated with satyrs. He was a good boy, one of the direct descendents of Pan, albeit about a hundred generations down the line. Chiron had kept meticulous records, and I hoped the Clan had saved them. Everyone should know where they came from.
“Will you stay with me tonight?” I asked, and now my voice sounded ragged.
“It would be an -” he stopped, yawning hugely, “an honor, my lady.” He fell asleep as I watched, goat-slitted eyes growing dull under heavy eyelids until he lost the battle to stay awake. His empty cup rolled away from his hand and landed on the sheepskin rug under the brazier with a quiet thud.
“Rest well, Connor, son of Seamus, son of Hector,” I said, and refilled my cup. Whiskey wouldn’t do more than make me moderately tipsy, unless I added Olympian nectar to it, and my stores of that precious elixir were running very low. I hadn’t had time to distill much since I got back, and what I had…
There was a box, on my desk, about the size of a brick. Nestled inside with those pockets of air humans were so fond of was a single finger-sized vial, full of the opalescent liquid that would bestow immortality on whoever consumed it. A letter was tucked inside the box, and it was ready to be sealed and whisked across the world.
I don’t need to tell you all, dear mortals, whose name was on the address label.
Tonight, I would keep vigil. I, who have never been a bride, would weep for the one who had been my husband in all but name. My fire still burned, people still needed to eat, and I had been ordered to take my place back amongst the gods of Olympus, and so I would.
Chiron had wanted me to receive the reverence I deserved, to demand what was mine by act and birthright. I hadn’t wanted to go – I was happy with him and our satyr friends in the Highlands, in those little pockets of fiercely protected wilderness where few disturbed us, and those usually in need of aid – but I had gone when Hermes had come for me. Their love and respect and worship had been enough for me to keep my divine spark alive. I didn’t need massive adulation, I just needed my boys and their families.
Tomorrow…I would begin again.