by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
Gods do not always beget gods. It is rare, but sometimes it happens that the union of two perfectly ordinary gods can result in a mortal child. I fear I might be such a child. I am 14 - not far from 15, in fact - but my back is still bare. A few months ago there was another in my group of peers who had not sprouted yet either, so no one was worried. Late bloomers, they called us. It will come, they said. You will sprout when you least expect it, they promised. But my back is still bare.
I sit with the rest of the boys as I always do, but it is now beginning to be awkward. Their jokes about my tardiness stopped not long after Tarian finally proved himself immortal; no one jostles me any more in our friendly scuffles for fear of touching my smooth back. Still, we remain friends. There will likely come a time soon when the adults will force the divide upon us, but until then I savour the company of the boys I have grown up with.
We sit in the Courtyard, a little removed from the hustle and bustle of the mortals tending to immortals' needs, and I see her walking past. She smiles at me; she does not need to bow before me - I have the status of a mortal as I have not yet sprouted. She curtsies to the rest of the group as is proper and wanders over to the market stalls. Her name is Estria and she is my mother's handmaid.
We found out at the last midsummer fair that she is a remarkably talented archer, not only for a mortal but even by immortal standards; since then, at my mother's insistence she discarded some of her handmaid duties in favour of instructing me in the art of the bow and arrow. She is my age and yesterday, as she was helping me adjust my elbow for a shot, she overwelmed me with the warmth of her breath against my ear and the yielding breast that brushed against my arm. Whether my time in the world be finite or not, it is a moment I will remember for all of it. I have all the other stirrings you see - all except the one that I so anxiously wait for.
She makes her way around the stalls, picking up delicacies for my mother, smiling at all those fortunate enough to cross her path. I watch her make her way back across from the market, the sunlight dancing with the myriad of hues in her hair - but my reverie is cut short by the sight of the hateful Campian crossing the Courtyard.
He was, to the annoyance of all of us, the first of our peer group to sprout. He is the kind of boy that takes pleasure in others' discomfort - he is the only one who still brings attention to my unadorned back by making scathing jokes. Since he can no longer lord it over the others as they too have now almost fully sprouted, he makes me the butt of his jokes with unfailing regularity. The others have started shouting him down about it though, so he needs to find new ways to torture me. He has seen how I look at Estria and now has the fodder he needs. He prances up to her and grabs her by the waist; he moves his other hand inappropriately over her body. She is terrified, but can do nothing - he is a god after all and she but a mortal.
I run across the Courtyard propelled as much by rage as by the twin bursts of pain shooting from my back. As I run my shoulderblades are on fire and by the time I reach Campian I am almost fully sprouted - this is unheard of, and will be talked of for generations, but for now my only concern is the girl. I grab hold of Campian's throat and squeeze. He releases Estria and turns meek and apologetic at the sight of the stormcloud in my face. I push him away and turn to Estria, thrown off balance by my new appendages. I realise that this is only one of many things I will have to get used to: I watch in despair as she averts her gaze from mine and curtsies respectfully from behind the barrier that has suddenly been brought up between us - and all that I want is to be mortal again.
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