I stood in front of my distilling room, a few scraps of paper in my hand. One, barely legible – Dinlas, 3. Another, in neat, childlike block print – Nike, 3. The last had gotten smudged beyond readability, but I felt sure they would come to me when it was needed.
And one more that wasn’t on a list anywhere…
The ambrosia had been aging for almost a century now, so it was nearly full strength. What began as a massive vat of assorted fruits, herbs, and magical ingredients had now been decanted and distilled, aged, then distilled again, then aged, then distilled a third time, had taken a hundred and ten gallons of liquid down to this – a single amphora of liquid immortality.
Having learned a painful lesson from what Eos had gone through with Tithanos, I tweaked the recipe some time ago with Chiron’s help, to bestow eternal youth as well as eternal life. Whoever drank it would be frozen at that point in their life, if they were young, or have their physical youth restored to them if they had reached the midpoint or end of their natural life.
I remembered when I had started this batch – it had been pouring down buckets of rain in Scotland, and I was joyful for it. Only pure rainwater was a good enough base for my ambrosia. I had gone out in the wilds of Scotland, out in the Outer Hebrides, in one of the biggest storms of the century. Scotland had been relatively unscathed by World War I, and out here, if you looked in the right places, you couldn’t tell what century it was.
I had waited until even the sheep had looked for dry places to hide, then strode out into the gale in my full Olympian form, a keg under each arm, and climbed to a barren spot out of reach of the salt spray of the North Sea. I set them up to catch the rain off of the granite outcrops, and stood there, basking in the wild fury of the first spring storm.
The rain was so pure, so sweet, that I knew it would be perfect for my ambrosia. I sat in the wind and rain for two whole days and nights, then hammered the ends onto the kegs and carried them back to the boat.
Chiron had teased me for days when I got home – said for a hearth goddess, I was the most sodden thing he had ever seen. I had flung my wet cloak at him in a huff and went and dried off, and when I came back, he had rolled the kegs into the stillroom for me and put the kettle on.
I stopped and smiled at the memory, and the one that followed on its heels of seeing his shade at Nyx’s island-warming party. It still rankled that he had died before I had been able to send him his vial of ambrosia. It was sitting in its box on my desk, useless now – it was only good for a short time, maybe two or three days, once it had been decanted – but I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw it away.
It was Chiron’s appearance that had spurred me onto this project, had given me the idea to reach out to my extended family. I knew he didn’t begrudge it to me, but seeing his shade finally fade away made me realize that it was all right for me to move on.
I had taken a weekend to myself after the island-warming party, to take the ripening batch to the heart of the Alps to freeze-distill it one last time before its final decantation. I had sat in a cave, watching ice crystals slowly coalesce around the edges of the basin. I scooped them out with my bare hands, the liquid cold enough to burn, removing these last bits of imperfection, making it absolutely pure, absolutely flawless, clear as moonlight trapped in crystal.
It was time for the last stage, the most critical one, the one that could only be done when everything was perfectly aligned. It was past the twelfth moon, not quite to Saturnalia, in the time of the year when the night and its mysteries were at its strongest. The magic was flowing, burgeoning with untapped potential. It was now or never – if it wasn’t decanted in the next few days, it would be useless.
Seven vials of enchanted ice sat neatly on my worktop. Each facet was perfectly symmetrical, the ice so clear that from the right angle it was invisible. Seven carved stoppers sat waiting – two in the shape of wolves heads, four with simple spheres, and one carved into the shape of a flame.
I took a deep breath, attempting to concentrate on what I was doing, but something felt…off. I stepped away from my worktop and looked around.
The pale wooden surface had been scrubbed with melted snow from Mount Olympus and purest salt from Aegean tide pools, then rubbed down with pine resin mixed with beeswax. It glowed softly in the torchlight. My miniature brazier was lit with a spark from the Hearthfire, crackling happily away on its carved wooden stand. The doorway to the stillroom had been blessed with fire and salt, and the torches stood guard, their flames calm in the unmoving air. The door itself was scrubbed with the same mixture, with an added dollop of pure boar’s fat to make the oak gleam – ah, there was the problem. The door wasn’t closed.
Simple things, you know. They can make all the difference.
I pushed the door closed, then took the extra step of setting the heavy crossbar into place – no one short of a Titan was going to be able to open that door unless and until I opened it.
I lined up the vials, picked up the amphora, and began to chant in the ancient language of the spheres – the words I had heard my mother and grandmother sing in the dark before the world was full of humans.
First, the two for the wolf-head vials – I sang of strength, and duty, and diligence, and loyalty, and love, then slipped the stoppers into the slender necks of the vials. Then the ones with the spheres. I sang of friendship and laughter, victory and defeat, triumph and celebration, love and struggle and adventure as I capped them off.
I stopped before the last one, considering. The words I had sung for Chiron weren’t right for this, so I had to think of new ones.
I don’t know how long I stood there in the stillness, thinking, but the words came, in their own time.
Laughter. Fearlessness. Loyalty. Bravery. Sweetness. Strength. Determination. Comfort. Power. Ruthlessness. Devotion. Hope. Protection. Constancy. Desire. Joy. Grief. Trust. Acceptance.
I sang of blood on snow and fire on stones, stag’s blood and fresh-cut wood and crushed pine needles underfoot.The living warmth of flesh and the scent of safety. I sang of the thrill of the stolen glance, the frisson of a first kiss. I sang of the feeling of coming home after a long journey to find a welcome that was for you above all others. The particular comfort of waking up in the middle of the night to arms around you and the warmth of a familiar body in the bed next to you, with the certain knowledge that you had hours left to sleep in their arms, the feel of their heartbeat under your cheek, the sounds of their breath in the still of the room, together in the center of the universe.
I sang of home – the place of belonging.
With shaking hands, I slipped the frozen flame into its spot, and poured the remainder of the ambrosia into a hammered bronze chalice that predated the foundation of Troy. It was cool and sweet, a perfect batch. I savoured the taste while I looked at the vials.
I only hoped that he would accept it, and that I would have the strength to accept his choice if he refused.