The raven-haired maiden clutched her chest and appeared to hyperventilate. Her silver eyes were wide, unblinking, and full of fright. Her back pushed against the stone railing of the balcony, and I could hear her heart race from where I stood. The night air was pleasant, but I wondered if her bare feet were cold on the stone floor. And that flimsy gray nightdress…you would think she would have thrown on a robe to protect herself from the springtime chill in the night air.
“I asked,” my voice coming out from beneath my hood, “if your mother speaks to you, too, when you talk to the night sky.”
She lowered her hand slowly, reaching behind her to grip the stone rail of the balcony. There was a slight tremor to her voice when she answered, as though the cool evening air only affected that. “Sometimes. Or maybe I’m just pretending. I don’t think it matters anymore.”
“Are you sure, raven hair? My mother is the night, and she speaks to me when I talk to her. Your mother, the starry one – Mrs. Asteria, talks to me too; she calls me dear boy or sweet boy.” I smiled, trying to hide my nerves.
Something in my voice chased the remaining traces of shock from her face. Her smile told me I was welcome here, even though I wasn’t sure she knew who I was. I cleared my throat. I had seen her in passing over the last week, when Mother dragged Hyp and me up to Olympus. Mother had business with Mr. Zeus tonight and Hyp had wandered off, so I went in search of her. And there she was talking to the night sky, like me. That got me excited. I had to say something, so I spoke from the shadows where I watched.
“I try not to think of her,” she said, turning back around, leaning against the column and staring up at the sky. “I know why she had to leave. Hera reminds me of that every day. I guess this is my version of keeping a diary, telling her. In case she ever comes back.”
She glanced over her shoulder at me, the profile of her face lined with starlight. “You know who I am. Care to return the favor?”
“I don’t…don’t know your name either, raven hair. Your mother didn’t tell me that.” I tried not to fidget in front of her, but my foot betrayed me and rubbed on the stones nervously. “But I am Thanatos, bearer of the empty torch and guider of the dead.” I showed her the empty bronze torch I carried. “Mr….Mr…Hades says when I am older, I will get a proper tool for reaping.”
“When I was older?!” Egads, did I just say older? I was much older than Mr. Hades and the raven-haired maiden by far. Our family had only recently come to the service of Mr. Hades, and he was a powerful young god…Had my nerves really caused this mental regression in age? Salvage this Thanatos…get closer…closer…do it…doooo it…
I took slow, careful steps towards the raven-haired one until I stood next to her. My whole body trembled and shook. My breathing grew rapid. Why did I do this? I am not Hyp. I am no good at these social things. I couldn’t breathe, but I forced myself to continue. I cleared my throat and let out a long ragged breath.
“And what is your name, Miss Raven Hair?” I sputtered out and stiffened as I waited for the answer.
“My name is Hekate. I don’t have a lot of titles like you do,” she said shyly. “My mother called me Bright One. Not that it’s smart to draw attention to yourself when you’re the King’s bastard daughter and the Queen’s your wicked stepmother.”
I nodded emphatically. I nodded so hard that my hood fell back, revealing my obsidian eyes and curly mussed up hair. Her silver eyes lit and caught the moonlight. It was so striking that I took a step or two back. I felt trapped by them. I didn’t know what to do. I felt panicked. She saw this and smiled at me. I froze as if in the freezing, she wouldn’t see me. I swallowed hard and audibly. The smile was very friendly, and it put me at ease, but my voice was still trapped inside me. That was going to take a while to come out.
“You have pretty eyes,” she said, as simply as she would have said the stars were shining. “Like the lake at midnight when the wind lies still.”
“Uhhhh…ummmm…uhh,” I tried to speak to Hekate.
She blushed, stumbling over the nervousness that wasn’t even hers. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I just…tend to say what I think.”
I still was unsure of what to say. This really was the longest I had been with someone who wasn’t Nemesis, my sister, Hypnos, my brother, my mother, or the dead. She seemed interested in me and I in her. Why was this so difficult? I blushed too. I felt the warm flush fill my cheeks, turning my pale skin first pink then red. The tip of my boot moved in a small circle on the stone as I tried to figure out what to say. I didn’t know how to take the compliment. So I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Mrs. Hera can be harsh sometimes. I have seen it…and she keeps those evil peacocks around. Do you suppose she is secretly evil?” I managed to get out.
Hekate laughed, then covered her mouth, trying not to make too much noise. “I think she likes the peacocks because they remind her of Father, always strutting about and showing his ass.”
I snickered, curling in my lips to muffle the sounds so no one could hear us. But someone did hear us. Laughter came from behind me, and I turned to look. Hypnos stood in the doorway, laughing and clapping at the scene before him.
“Thanner, are you trying to talk to a girl?” Hypnos asked, smiling widely.
His black and gold-flecked eyes sparkled with merriment as he approached the two of us. He stood a foot above me, but by the end of the summer, we would be the same height. He had a lean muscular frame from his athletic activities. Me? Not so much. His straight hair, unlike my curly mess, was swept back from his forehead. He put a hand on my shoulder, still smiling as if he was saying, Don’t worry, little brother. I got this. Then he turned his smile onto Hekate.
“Forgive my brother. Either the cat catches his tongue, or he has no filter. I am Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and this unfortunate fellow’s older brother,” he said jovially, as he extended a hand to Hekate.
I fidgeted nervously next to Hypnos, looking between Hekate and him. Hekate did not take Hypnos’s hand. Instead, she folded her arms across her chest and stared at him evenly. Mother had that look, too, when Hypnos got into trouble and dragged me with him. Hypnos saw it, and his arm dropped to his side. Yet, his smile didn’t falter.
“I thought he was doing just fine. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you know more.” She flicked her eyes at me and gave me a small smile before looking back at Hypnos. You can always tell the ones that are raised in the palace – they default back to manners every time. She extended her hand to him, on her own terms. “Nice to meet you, Hypnos.”
Hypnos stood there in his easy-going manner. His smile grew wider as he looked Hekate up and down, assessing her. He nodded his head and laughed. It was more like a chuckle.
“Nice to meet you too, Hekate.” Hypnos bowed formally at the waist, taking her hand and kissing it like we were in court. She gave him a slight smile then offered a larger one in my direction.
“Well, if you’d started out that way, I might not be standing here thinking Thanatos is the nice one.”
Hypnos shot me a glance. “Thanner is one of the nicest gods you will ever meet. Thanner, I like this one a lot. Why don’t you bring her down by the lake tomorrow night? She can meet Dinlas and hang out.”
“Will Eros be there this time?” I asked.
“No diaper boy is with his mommy this week. Thank Chaos,” Hypnos said.
Hekate looked between both of us, a smile growing on her face. She took a step closer and lowered her voice as she looked up at me. “Please! You don’t know what it’s like being the only one who can’t sleep around here at night. At least I can do…I don’t know…something fun.” She stopped. “Wait–you said Dinlas. That sounds like trouble, not fun.”
Hypnos broke out in laughter at her last comment, and I stiffened.
“Oh yeah, Thanner. I definitely like this one. That settles it. Tomorrow by the lake it is. Thanner and I will come for you. Be here at the balcony, and he will fly up and get you,” Hypnos said, clapping me on the back, moving me forward.
I stood there stiffly, gazing into Hekate’s eyes and trying to swallow in my dry throat.
“Say something, Thanner,” Hypnos whispered in my ear.
“We will see you tomorrow night, Ms. Hekate!” I shouted.
I heard Hyp sigh, and Hekate laugh. I trembled and shook so badly. Hekate stepped close enough for me to feel the warmth of her body and gave me a stunning smile. She was obviously excited about tomorrow night, though I wasn’t sure which part.
“I’ll be right here, waiting,” she said, and with one last look at Hypnos and one last smile for me, turned and darted back into the warm glow of the palace.
“Come on, Thanner. Nem and Mom are looking for us. So, let’s get back before Mom skins us alive and sacrifices us on the altar of our grandfather. You know, like my last little brother,” Hyp said to me, smirking all the while.
“What little brother, Hyp? I am the last born son of Nyx. It is well known, so who is it? Hyp?”
Hyp smiled and headed to the door, glancing over his shoulder, “Oh, I dare not say.” With that, he entered the palace.
“Hey! Hyp, come on. Don’t do that to me! Tell me who it is? Hyp? Hyp?” I called after him.
“Bye, Thanner,” Hyp yelled from inside.
I stood but a moment longer and went in after him shouting his name.