November 11th, 2014 - Eternal Star
11th of November, 2014 - Eternal Star
The sea; vast ocean blue filled with life and feared for its infinite mysteries. Her velvet surface rose and fell with temperate breaths, lulling seafaring birds to sleep and granting safe passage to ships that dared to sail. Men, with ambitions as untamed as the mistress herself, journeyed far in search of glory to honor their gods and enrich their coffers. No adventure was too trivial to whet the intrigue of kings or peasants with something to prove, and any vessel with oars was considered suitable for the task.
On this night, one of the grander ships passing over Poseidon’s domain was destined for a less than optimistic purpose. It’s bow cut a path through the reflection of Nyx’s canvas and made the stars dance below his hand skimming over them. Long fingers travelled along the smooth surface, chasing the small specs of light bobbing in the wake, as a salty Aegean breeze combed through his golden hair. Eyes the color of Olympus’s fairest skies and skin kissed by his former patron’s sun, the young man bore the attributes of his father’s visage and embodied the light of life…though now, he was a servant to far darker things. His brand carefully concealed beneath layers of armor, he let his mind wander away from fate and into the eyes of the being surfacing below him – bringing a smile to his face.
“Arthur, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
Said being, adjusting to breathing air instead of water, shook the residual droplets clinging to his sandy colored hair and scowled. “Don’t be so ridiculous. Tis an impossible achievement to forget you, Alfred of Delphi.”
The man smiled wider and waited until his hand was accepted to pull the other onto the ship’s railing. A bare human torso appeared, followed by the emerald-scaled tail of an elegant aquatic creature. His companion was a true son of Achelous, the river god and father of merfolk, and had made a most precarious journey from the mainland to see him.
Once comfortably situated, the merman took a deep breath of air and exhaled contently, leaning into the current with his hands anchoring him on the rail. “How I’ve dreamt of living a life sailing above the water…even a mortal life.”
Alfred cast his gaze back to the ocean and nostalgically remembered just such a life. Wild, free, with exploits that echoed through the ballads and spoken histories of civilization. Even Olympus still remembered the accolades of his life…even his sire had immortalized his victories and sorrowful end in song. “It is a joy I will never forget.”
Arthur turned softened eyes on his companion and comfortingly covered the man’s hand with his own. Unlike the people on this voyage, all sleeping below deck, Arthur knew Alfred’s story and true purpose here as an agent of Hades. “Which soul are you here for?”
Alfred sighed and rested his arms on the rail. “The king’s son, who was told he would merely be overseeing this farce of an expedition. The prince has no idea he’s a sacrifice to settle his father’s debt over an unsatisfied bargain with Hades.”
Arthur remained quiet and nodded his head in understanding. No god took well to oath breakers, especially where life and death was concerned. He didn’t need to know the details of whatever deal this king had struck with the lord of the Underworld, as he knew only life could pay for life…meaning this king had asked for some reprieve from mortality in exchange for shortening another’s time that would keep things in balance.
“I feel for the prince. I know what it’s like to lose your soul in someone else’s deal,” Alfred added, and Arthur squeezed the hand in his tighter.
Alfred had been born a mortal son of Apollo, the life-loving god of the sun. From childhood to adulthood, Alfred had blazed an existence of reckless abandonment, never stopping for a moment because all of life was an adventure to be had. He’d sailed to every corner of the known world, battled hellish monsters, and braved perils only a demi-god could have ever hoped survived. He had once been able to heal the injured and sick with his voice, and defend the weak with his unparalleled archery. But it was his pure spirit that had earned him his greatest triumph…warming the jaded heart of a merman longing for life beneath the open sky.
Alfred was everything Arthur had ever dreamt of being. Through his gift of storytelling and even sharing an adventure or two together, Arthur felt as though he had lived that dream alongside this precious soul, his personal sun in an otherwise lonely and lightless existence.
Sadly, his sun had set far too soon.
Years ago, when Alfred had returned home for the first time in nearly a decade, an emissary from Sparta had come to the city in search of a divine son of Apollo. Through violent means, this emissary had found Alfred and abducted him, taking him to a temple of Ares where a priest had been waiting for them. Evidently, the gods had gotten into a bloody tiff and a prized son of Ares had been slain, the fault for which had fallen on Apollo. The fight had had nothing to do with Alfred, but the vengeful war god had demanded retribution for the crime and Alfred had been the first child of the sun found. He’d been knelt before a statue of Ares and his blood used to settle the debt.
His father, at least, had mourned his loss; but it had been Arthur who grieved the most.
Given his lineage, the lord of the dead had decided to make use of the soul that had prematurely found it’s way to his realm. Alfred had been made an agent of Tartarus, charged with collecting souls to settle debts that kept the flow of souls in balance. Though it was a far better fate than others that might have befallen a demi-god in the afterlife, it was an anguishing occupation for one who, despite all that had happened, still loved life.
Knowing the weight of his friend’s torment, Arthur laid his head on the other’s shoulder and eventually Alfred’s cheek came to rest on him too. “I brought you a gift tonight.”
He knew he had Alfred’s interest when he could hear the cautious smile in his voice. “Oh? Dare I ask where you’re hiding it?”
Arthur chuckled and raised his hand from the rail to out over the sea, letting the cool glow of moonlight reflecting off the water pool in his hand and form his gift. He didn’t have to see Alfred’s face to know it was lit with that wondrous spark of boyish excitement he always got when witnessing Arthur’s magic. It was so pure…and he treasured it.
The spell was complete and in Arthur’s hand hung a modest silver necklace with an oval pendant, made of pearl. Alfred hesitated before reaching and letting Arthur place it in his hand. Though he was eager to examine it he made sure to treat it delicately. Knowing his gift would be handled with the reverence it deserved, Arthur raised his head and whispered, “Say my name.”
The warrior quirked a brow but obeyed, “Arthur.”
The pendant began to glow with the same soft and silvery light that created it, forming a small star in Alfred’s hand that left him in awe. It was so beautiful and undiminished by the dark night; it was like holding a piece of heaven. “Arthur…”
“It’s easy to forget what the world beyond Tartarus is like, but I…I never want you to forget it or the most beautiful thing about it,” Arthur began and felt the burn of tears he fought not to shed. “And that’s the light you brought to it.”
He knew Alfred’s eyes were upon him but he couldn’t bear to look back just yet. Losing Alfred had been the hardest experience of his long life and though Alfred would return to this world from time to time…it was still only a matter of time before what made Alfred so special was lost in Tartarus’s void. His heart ached thinking about it; the future was so bleak without this beautiful soul to share it with. When he knew he was about to lose the battle with his grief, he felt a soft kiss on his cheek and his breath caught.
Alfred was now resting his head on Arthur’s shoulder, holding the still glowing light before them and…happy. They stayed together like that, watching the rosy tips of dawn spread over the sky, until Alfred closed his hand over pendant and used their last moments alone to whisper:
“Thank you for being the best part of life.”