After the excitement and wild success of Artemis and Nyx’s hunts with the Pack, it was high time that I actually spent some time on Olympus. I knew Sparky wanted me around more, and there was only so much time I could spend away on the excuse of “sourcing new vendors”.
I opened the door of my apartment in the Administration building and took a deep breath. It smelled right, and all the magic and divinity we had poured into this place had worked. Even with me gone, the flame hadn’t dimmed at all. It rose to greet me, pouring out of its brazier and circling around my ankles like a particularly friendly cat. I petted the flames as they rose, and Connor just shook his head as he walked past me to put away the fruits of our hunt.
“Hes, how in the name of Pan’s brazen balls do you ever find anything in here?” he asked, and I could hear his horns clanging off the wrought iron rack I used to hang my pans over the stove. “Ow!”
“Well to start with, I’m not six and a half feet tall in my kitchen most of the time,” I answered, trying not to laugh as I came to help get him loose. “Let alone walking around with a brace of dead deer over my shoulders to boot. Set them down, there’s a lad.”
“I. Can’t. Move,” he enunciated slowly, and I saw a ladle had caught one of the tips of his horns and one of the deer’s legs was twisted up and somehow gotten stuck in the rack itself. Reaching up on my tiptoes, I pulled the dainty hoof free of the pots and unhooked the ladle.
Connor snorted, a noise that made him sound like his grandfather Seamus more than he would ever admit, and laid the carcasses down on my worktable.
“This is a bit different than your wee cottage on Great-Grandda’s estate,” he said, with the characteristic Scottish gift for understatement. “Granny Molly wouldn’t know what to do wi’ a place like this.”
I loved my cozy cottage, with its thick thatch roof and a sprawling grapevine that shaded the south side, and its view of my vegetable gardens and Chiron’s favorite oak to lounge under at the foot of the garden, but part of me luxuriated in gleaming marble floors and gilded plates instead of rough timber and serviceable pottery.
“It’s nothing compared to what some of the other goddesses have,” I said, a little defensive for no apparent reason that I could discern. Nyx and Artemis had reminded me that being on Olympus hadn’t always been about soothing baby brother’s tantrums and being left alone to babysit the spawn of my siblings and their hordes of descendants – sometimes it was basking in admiration, getting drunk on ambrosia, and going down and just being, well, gods. It had felt amazing, and I wasn’t quite ready for it to stop.
“There, there, sweet,” Connor said, seeing the emotions shift across my face. “I didn’t mean any offense. It’s a beautiful place you have here, now that I can see more of it than your brazier and your ceiling. Show me your home, Hearth Goddess.”
“Yes, you did spend a great deal of your last visit here passed out on the floor,” I said and smiled, taking his hand. “Come on.”
We passed through the commercial kitchen that was all done in gleaming steel, and I showed him the dark room, paneled in Olympian basalt, lit only by torchlight, where a dozen and more barrels of Olympian nectar lay aging in their bronze casks. The scent was heavy in the air, sweet and rich. To me, it smelled of cool fall evenings, woodsmoke on satyr skin, the richness of cooking meat, and the strong, almost bitter sweetness of honey. It smells different to everyone – to Nike, poor innocent soul, it smells like blueberry jam – and I was overcome with curiosity.
“What do you smell, Connor?”
He sniffed, and his eyes closed halfway as he tried to put into words what “home” smelled like. “I smell…the first breath of snow, and sheets dried in the sunshine, and the chicken pie my mum made for me when I was a wee lad, and there’s something else, it’s hard to say, but it smells like…you. Like smoke on the breeze, when you’re out hunting on a cold day and you get that whiff that means there’s a hot drink waiting for you, instead of a drafty room wi’ half the pack braggin’ and belchin’ and gettin’ underfoot.”
I smiled, sincerely flattered. He gave me the shy smile that had caught my eye even before Chiron’s passing, that hidden half-grin that still made my heart skip a bit.
“How about the rest, love?”
I mentally shook myself away from the taunting depths of his eyes and continued the tour. My bedroom looked out towards the high alpine meadows of Olympus, whereas most of the rest of the gods tended to favour the views of the Aegean. For all I had been spending time with Nyx and Artemis and even that little troublemaker Eros, I still didn’t really like being around a lot of people, and ever since Olympus was declared a national park, I didn’t have to see many of them.
There was a balcony, of course, with another bronze fire pit that burned whenever I walked out there. Someone, probably Athena, had arranged for two large pots full of dwarf olive trees at each end, for privacy and scent, and I enjoyed having them there. It reminded me of the good old days.
Connor had stopped just inside the doorway and was looking out through the nearly complete wall of glass. Sadly, the rest of the room was mostly empty. I had a huge bed, because I tended to sleep in Olympian form when I was here, and it was covered in the finest linens that the staff had been able to find, rich soft fabric that draped like thick water and always smelled of sunlight.
They had made me curtains, too, graceful billowing things that kept the room cool and glowed in the moonlight on clear nights.
I didn’t keep much of a wardrobe, and what I did was kept in a closet that was nearly the size of my original temple, it seemed like. Nyx was working on that though – I had blatantly admired her style, and she had challenged me to develop my own. I was trying, but it was a slow process.
So often I didn’t feel like I belonged here, but after running with the Pack and the goddesses, it was clear that Scotland wasn’t going to be enough for me anymore.
Connor looked like he belonged here, though, handsome as any satyr immortalized in bronze or oil paint. Even wearing his human face, with his slightly tatty old kilt showing off his legs and his hair mussed and his horns barely showing, he was still powerfully, viscerally masculine in this place that seemed to be lacking something. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but he exacerbated its absence.
I shook my head again. I had felt these pangs from time to time, the want for more than just a consort, to go through the happy ritual that I had overseen and blessed a thousand times or more, but it wasn’t for me. The ache would pass. It always did.
“Hes, you’re not a particularly minimalist goddess, are you?” he asked, surprising me.
“Not really, although I don’t wallow in luxury like some of my family,” I said, looking at him.
“Why’s this place as empty as a park bench in a Highland rainstorm. You don’t even have any art on the walls, just…nothin’. The view is pretty and all, but my lady, you clearly don’t live here.”
“I’ve never really gotten into the habit of collecting useless things.” The words sounded harsh as soon as they left my lips, and it startled me.
“Art isn’t useless, love. It feeds the soul. No trophies even? Not even weapons. D’you even have any music here?”
“In the kitchen, yes, there’s a thing I talk to and it plays -”
Connor turned to face me, his arms crossed over his chest. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Where’s the life here? Outside of the kitchen.”
“I..don’t know. Help me?” The words escaped before I could bite them back, and I got a smile.
“Oh, aye, since you’ve asked. I’ll help you live, and not just exist to feed people and keep a fire goin’. Now, where’s this closet of yours? Lady Night’s party is soon, and you aren’t wearing that same old brown and cream dress you’ve been wearing for forever and a day.”
He looked down at me, and there was a challenge in his eyes.
“Or maybe I’ll knock Iain about the head and shoulders and dance wi’ the pretty huntress instead, aye?”
I mock-growled at him, and he reached out and lightly tapped the tip of my nose.
“Come now, my lady, it’s time you came home for real. Leave behind the greens and browns of the Highlands and take your place by the bonfire. Be a satyr’s girl, for once in your life. Dance under the moon with me, for Equinox?”
He gathered me into his arms and began dancing me around the room, the graceful slide-step of the turning of the seasons, the slow rotation that symbolised the Earth moving through her path among the stars.
“Of course I’ll dance with you, Connor,” I said, and he pulled me even closer, and just as he leaned in for a kiss, I heard the front door chime.
“Lady Hestia? You have a client meet-..oh, my apologies, my lady!” It was my erstwhile assistant, Bruna – a capable and usually exceptionally unflappable young lady that had been sent to me by Moxie, to run Hearthfire while I was out running across the world. Right now she was blushing, clear to the roots of her hair. You would think we were in flagrante, not dancing about my room fully clothed.
“Oh, don’t worry, wee lassie, I was just makin’ sure her Ladyship was in a good mood for her meetin’,” Connor said, and turned a satyr’s grin on Bruna, which only deepened the blush. I kicked him in the shin, and the grin flinched not a bit.
“I’ll just, er, that is, I’ll reschedule -”
“No, Bruna, I’ll see them in my office in two minutes,” I said, and she fled like a startled rabbit back into the safety of the foyer.
“Connor mhac Dougal mhac Seamus mhac Hector,” I began, and he laughed and leaned down, kissing my cheek.
“Only four generations back, I’m not in real trouble. Off with you, my lady, while I see what I can do to make this place look like someone lives in it and you’re no waitin’ for a photoshoot. Go on, I promise I won’t go strewin’ my socks around the place if I’m left unattended for half an hour.”
With my own cheeks a bit pink, I walked back through the kitchen, stopping by the nectar room for a breath of contentment.
Client meeting. Right.
Got to keep the Hearthfire burning.