|I am the Goddess of Death
Author: Aura Berry PM
A short story from the point of view of the Grim Reaper and what happens when she becomes human. Please Review!Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy - Words: 8,767 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 1 - Published: 04-10-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2885630
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter One: The Joys of Life and Sorrows of Death, or Vice Versa
I am the Goddess of Death. But no, it is not what you think. I do not cause death, I am no murderer. I am a companion, a delivery woman, an escort, if you will. I simply guide the already departed soul down to the Underworld. Am I an evil creature? No, I am here to help those who have perished. Ask any soul, it is better to have closure and a place to go, rather than to wander aimlessly upon the earth.
And yet, despite my intentions, mortals fear me. My name is used to scare children and keep law breakers in line. I would resent this, but the mortals are not my friends, and therefore I do not care what they think of me. The few mortals that do not fear me are not my friends either for that matter. I do not care for the company of those whose life spans are but a heartbeat of my own time.
The other Gods and Goddesses do not fear me, for they are immortal and cannot die. They claim to be all-knowing, yet they do not understand the concept of death, since they will never go through it. Death makes them uncomfortable, therefore I make them uncomfortable. The immortals are not my friends either. The closest thing I have to a companion is the only God I have regular contact with, Hades, the God of the Underworld. Mortals fear him more than me, the Grim Reaper, the supposed bringer of death. For in the eyes of humans, Hades is the eternal tormentor, the demon that tortures souls until the end of time. But the mortals are wrong.
The immortals see him as a cold, heartless Lord who refuses the joys of Olympus to revel in the death of humanity. They are wrong as well, but not quite as wrong as the mortals. He is cold, yes, but far from heartless. He is the one who judges the souls and decides which part of the Underworld they belong in. After seeing the sorrow humans feel through death, after witnessing the pain and suffering humans cause each other, the joys of the Mountain seem false and selfish.
Hades is not a cruel tormenter; however, he is more like an overseer. If a life was lived well, the gates of Heaven's Field were opened for that soul. If a mortal lived in a state of cruelty and caused suffering, in the Underworld he would be locked in the prison of his own mind. His wickedness would create his punishment, his hell, if that term appeals to you.
I have watched his judgements before, witnessed the sorrow and pain of those dead. I had never before understood why mortals feel this way.
For most of the time, I am called to gather the soul shortly after life has departed, when the mortal is still rather numb and unbelieving. Normally I do not witness any kinds of emotion unless I sit in on the judgment process. For me, death holds no distress, nor does it hold joy. It is my position on this world, I see it every day, many times every day. I could never comprehend how another step in the cycle of life could cause such grief.
Until that one night, that is.
It seems a long time ago now, and I have lived in constant sorrow since then.
For some still unknown reason, I had arrived early and the soul I was to collect had not yet left the body. It was a young woman, fatally wounded by another human. She was lying in a pool of her own blood, which was quickly draining out of her.
I stood off to the side to wait, but as I did, I felt a pain in my heart. The pain was new, I had never felt it before and I was confused. I curiously looked back and saw that a man was cradling the woman in his arms, I assumed he was her husband. He was sobbing over her, his tears dropping onto her face and running down her cheeks as if they were her own. He was crying out inarticulate words about how life was unfair and the Gods were unjust and how mortals were nothing but their playthings.
I frowned, noticing for the first time that the young woman vaguely resembled me, her hair the same dark colour and her eyes held the same haunted look as my own. This disturbed me in some way that I could not explain. Yet I could not look away. What was it about this mortal woman that hypnotized me to the point of distraction?
I turned my attention back to the sight before me. The woman quieted her husband, speaking a single phrase, telling him that she loved him. And then she died.
I had never witnessed a human death before and it troubled me. I have a natural signal or intuition that guides me to the time and place of a souls' departing and this time it was off. I was early and I do not know why. The trouble in my mind was as new as the pain in my heart.
The woman's soul stared down at her husband and her own body. She seemed calm and accepting instead of unfeeling and disbelieving. I hesitantly glided over to her and without ever speaking a word, she turned and followed me. I led the soul down to the Underworld and made sure she went with the boatman. I was distressed the entire time and once I was alone I went off somewhere to think. I still do not know where I went; all I can remember is the moonlight shining down, making the dead trees look like waving, skeleton-like hands.
My mind wandered and I imagined myself in that woman's place. In that one moment I was able to understand. I understood why such sadness always accompanied death. Mortals die; it happens every day. And every day somebody leaves the earth and somebody is left to grieve for their absence. Every day, at every moment, there is a mortal living in grief for the loss of their loved one.
With that understanding came sorrow. And regret. Sorrow for all those who have died and for those left behind.
The regret was for me.
I would never experience that kind of emotion. I have never felt love for anything, nor consuming sadness. I have never even felt the freedom of joy or the tightness of rage. I have never loved another being, mortal or immortal and I would never lose a being that I loved. Nobody would ever love me, for I am the Goddess of Death, and nobody can love death. Nobody would ever grieve for me, for I would never die.
It struck me then, as I was thinking these bleak thoughts, that even as much as mortals fear death, death is as much a part of life as birth. And I would not die.
I was not even born, I simply came into being. I am the Goddess of Death, the Grim Reaper, an immortal, an eternal roamer upon the earth. I am death personified and I know nothing of life.
I was never born and I would never die.
Does that mean I will never live?
Chapter Two: The Everyday Lives of Humans
Eventually my thoughts consumed me. I wandered for days at a time, neglecting my work, ignoring the signalling within my body that informed me of a mortal death. The skeletal trees were somehow a comfort to me, and I strayed there often. In the back of my mind I knew that soon the God of the Underworld would come looking for me. The amount of souls coming across the river would have been greatly diminished, and he would be wondering what was wrong.
It was almost a week after the death of the female that so affected me, when Hades came to me. Death, he said, not using my real name. Why are you here? He asked me. The souls on earth are in need of you.
I turned to him and he looked into my eyes, and saw the pain and sorrow lurking there. Ah, he said to me, when did it happen? I told him what I had seen and the new things that had welled up in my immortal heart. He told me that he knew of what I was speaking, as he had been feeling these things for a long time. He was waiting for it to happen to me for quite some time as well. What can I do? I asked him desperately. I cannot go on feeling this way.
We walked through the trees and he said nothing for a while, as if he was thinking. At last he turned to me, his eyes now sad. I can help you, he told me softly. I can do something for you, but it might not make you happy, nor relieve your sorrow, but I can give you the chance to understand. You are clouded by emotions that you have never known, as emotions are possessions of mortals, not the Gods. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked down at me, his silver eyes glowing in the moonlight. I can put you on earth, he said solemnly. We are already on earth, I told him, not sure of what he meant. He shook his head. We are on earth, he agreed, but as immortals. I can make you mortal for a time, and perhaps you will be able to find answers to your questions.
I walked away from him, tracing a familiar path through the trees. He followed at a distance, giving me room to think. It did not take long for me to make up my mind. As I had told him, I could not go on with the way my heart ached. I looked back at him, my only companion, the closest thing I had to a friend, and nodded.
He stepped closer to me and spoke one last time. When you have found your answers, he said, you will return to this place, and return to your immortality. Then he was silent. He put his hand on my forehead and something like a bolt of lightning shot from his palm and into my skull. My mind went black and I fell to the ground, unconscious.
I woke a great deal of time later, for it was not the black of night that I saw, but the light of dawn. My mind was hazy with pain and confusion, but the first thing I felt was coldness. I rubbed my arms and felt the warmth of my hands, and I revelled in it. But after enjoying the new feelings of the temperature, I started to shiver, not as fond of the cold as I was a moment ago. Fortunately Hades had been prepared and left me a warm cloak. I stood up and wrapped it around my shoulders, and heat enveloped me. I smiled. I looked around and began to walk, wobbling on my feet.
I knew how to walk, but a human walking and a God walking are two different things. For the immortals, we barely need to touch the ground, and to others it looks as if we were gliding. And for us, distance is no setback. With one step we could travel halfway across the world if we choose. Though with mortals, as I soon found out, one step was only one step, and you needed to take many steps before you could go anywhere. Already one of my minor questions was answered. Why do humans usually live in one place? Why do they not travel more? My feet answered me. Because traveling was hard work. And it took a long time.
I grew tired quickly, another new sensation for me. I was confused, I did not know why my limbs were growing heavy, nor why my mouth was stretching wide occasionally. I left the road I had been walking on and went into the trees, finding a quiet shaded spot. I sat down to rest, and it seemed that was what my body wanted. I leaned against a tree and quickly fell asleep.
I awoke when the sun was high in the sky, marking the middle of the day. I resumed my course on the dirt road, following other travelers ahead of me. I watched them, fascinated. Their voices were loud in my ears and their backs bent under the weight of their packs. I looked around. Every traveler was carrying some kind of pack, full of mysterious traveling objects, I supposed. I received some odd looks from the other people on the road and I thought it was because I was not carrying anything other than my black cloak. I took no notice of their looks and continued on my way.
Eventually the travelers I was following led me into a big city. It was familiar, but to my now-mortal eyes, everything was brighter, and the sounds were louder. I stood inside the city gates, off the road to get used to the busyness of the people around me. My throat was dry and irritated me. I looked around and followed a mortal who was as dusty from traveling as I was. He walked deep into the city, into a large square lined with market stalls. With difficulty I was able to keep him in my sight and watched as he stepped to the back of a line. I walked up and stood behind him. Leaning to the side I saw that we were lined up in front of a brick well, set against a wall of the square. There was a wooden ladle tied with rough string to the mouth of the well, and humans were using it to drink water. I swallowed thickly, trying to rid myself of the dust, and my body agreed that I was in the right line. I reached the front after a short wait and the male ahead of me handed me the ladle. I dipped it into the water and drank. The water was cold and clear and tasted better than anything I have ever had.
I gave the ladle to the next in line and wandered away, to wherever my feet wanted to lead me. The market was as fascinating as the travelers were. Males and females stood behind wooden stalls, and selling anything a human might every want or need. Wide streets led away from the large square, and each street held more stalls and shops, this time the contents were grouped together. As I walked, humans moved out of my way and did not bother me. I was not sure why they were doing this, I did not think I looked any different from the rest of them.
I passed through the cloth street and up through the jewellery and antiques. A man offered me a gold necklace, but I never wore jewellery before and did not feel the need to begin now.
The city was busy around me, mortals rushing around, in a hurry wherever they were going. I entered a different part of the city and many different scents came rushing to my mortal sense of smell. I saw that I had entered the part of the city where the food stalls and shops were set up. I have seen mortal food before, but did not understand why they ate it. Immortals do not need food to live, nor do they need to drink. But as I was walking past these stalls, something deep in my torso began to grumble and an odd sort of almost-pain bloomed there. I looked around quickly, but it seemed as if nobody else was affected by anything.
I walked towards a stall that my mortal senses told me held fruit. The male behind it was speaking with another human and I was free to look at the items in front of him. A cluster of deep purple caught my eye. I poked one of the small round fruits and it was cold to my skin. I liked the way the sunlight was reflected off their smooth surfaces. A pulled a small fruit free from the rest and put it in my mouth. It was cold and sweet, and exactly what my body wanted. I heard a low voice growl beside me.
"You better be able to pay for those grapes. I cannot sell half-eaten fruit." The stall keeper was large and his voice was threatening. I felt another new feeling rise up; fear.
"Pay?" I asked, confused. "What do you mean?"
The male narrowed his eyes and grabbed my wrist, keeping me in place. "I mean you had better give me gold for the rest of those grapes, and things will be fine. If not," he reached his other hand underneath his stall and brought up a shining knife. "Then I will take something else from you. Thieves are not welcome around here."
I tried to pull away, but the human was much stronger than I. He raised the knife up high, but another voice called out and the knife froze in mid-air.
"Stop! Do not dare to lower that knife!"
I looked over to my rescuer, a tall, thin human male. He was wearing a robe similar to my own, though his was a dark, homespun brown and mine, midnight black underneath my cloak. He put his hand on the stall keeper's arm, and the man put down his weapon. The tall male looked down at the other human. "What do you think you were doing?" He asked in an angry voice.
The stall keeper pointed to me. "She was stealing from me, priest!" He pointed down to the cluster of what he called grapes.
The other mortal looked at it, then back to the stall keeper. "You were going to maim her over one grape?" He leaned closer to him and spoke quietly. "Can you not see that she is a noblewoman? Look at her clothing, it looks as if she has been traveling for days." He looked at me and made a signal with his eyes. I went along with him.
"What happened my Lady?" He asked me. "Were you ambushed?"
"Yes," I said, knowing I should agree with everything he said. I pulled words from my memory that I had heard other mortals speaking. "I lost my escort and my horse, everything except my sandals."
The priest spoke quietly to the other male again, removing his large hand from my wrist. "It looks as if she is a bit simple. I doubt she knew what she was doing was wrong. Please Theodore, have mercy. Does Zeus, the High God, not ask us to forgive?"
The male called Theodore grumbled something in reply that sounded vaguely in agreement, and stepped away. The priest nodded to him graciously and took my arm. His hand was warm on my elbow, his skin a little bit rough.
"Please come this way my Lady," he said politely, more for the crowd around us than for my sake. I let him lead me away from the market, to a quieter place in the city. The buildings on either side of the road were tall, and free of stalls in front of them. By then the priest had released my arm and I had covered myself with my cloak once more.
"I can take you somewhere to be off of the street if you wish," he offered and I told him to continue to lead me.
We walked the twisting streets to the very centre of the city, where a large temple sat, surrounded by lush gardens in full bloom. I followed the priest to a stone bench underneath a small tree and sat down. He looked at me for a moment before leaning back to rest against the tree.
"What is your name?" He asked me after a long, silent moment.
Thinking quickly, I said; "Thana." It was not my true name, but I would not give him that. Thana would do for the time I spent as I mortal.
"I can see that you are not from around here Thana," he said to me.
"What do you mean?" I asked him nervously.
He looked me up and down once, and said; "You are dressed as if you are a Lady or priestess, but you do not have an escort or bodyguard, nor do you have anything other than the clothing you are wearing."
"Perhaps I was ambushed," I said cautiously.
The priest smiled. "But you did not comprehend the process of money and trade, and the whole time you were wandering the market, you had a look upon your face. I was watching you before you reached Theodore's fruit. You looked as if you were a child, seeing the stars for the first time."
"You see much, priest," I said to him and he laughed.
"That I do," he agreed. "And my name is Javan. So Thana, where is it you are from, where markets are apparently not in existence and gold is not used to barter?"
"I am from very far away," I said slowly, and tested his name. "Javan. Perhaps I have hit my head, and my memory has been damaged."
He accepted my answer, for now, at least. He stood up and held out his hand, as if he was offering something. "Please come inside, and I will find you something to eat."
I followed him inside the temple. The stone walls were thick and I could feel the coldness of the floor through my sandals. The air inside the building was warmer than I expected, but cooler than outside. I heard distant chanting to Zeus and smiled, reminding myself to give him and Hades my thanks.
Javan led me to a small kitchen and asked me to sit at the long wooden table. I watched him pull things from a large ice box, and other items from a wooden pantry. He set them in front of me and sat himself down across from me. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, before mimicking his actions. The human food was filling and soon enough, the pains in my torso stopped, along with the odd noises.
"Do you have anywhere to stay?" He asked me once I was finished. I shook my head and he told me the temple was always available to those in need. He would see to it that a room would be readied for me.
"I have my chores to attend to," he said after putting away the food items. "Will you be fine on your own?"
As if a Goddess could not handle herself for a few hours.
I told him I would be perfectly fine.
Once he was gone, I followed the sound of the distant chanting to the inner temple. I walked near one of the alters and lit a small candle. I prayed, something I had never done before. I thanked Hades for the gift he gave me, and Zeus for letting it happen. I knelt on the cold stone and gazed up at the carved statues, feeling more at peace than I have for a long time. My lingering sadness was overshadowed by the wonder I felt at the newness of everything around me.
I sat in the temple long into the night, and watched as the sun set, sinking into the sky and turning everything to gold. The sky deepened its blue and stars sparkled like gems on velvet. The sweet smell of incense was all around me, and pure, chiming bells joined the priests who were chanting.
Eventually a young novice tugged at my cloak to get my attention. He asked me to follow him, he would show me to my room for the night. I restrained myself from trying to examine or touch the young human, as I do not usually come into contact with many children, and he intrigued me. He led me down a long hallway with many doors on each side. Most of the doors were plain, but some had feathers or flowers hanging on them. The child saw me looking and told me that those were rooms that people were staying in. He showed me my door, which had a red tulip on it. He opened the door and told me that Javan would come in to fetch me in the morning, and then he left.
I entered my temporary room and closed the door behind me. The room was small and bare, with nothing but a bed and a wooden wardrobe. But there was a window looking out into one of the many gardens. I looked in the wardrobe and pulled out a sleeping robe that was left for me. I took off my cloak and black robe and pulled the shift over my head. I felt the now familiar weariness settle over me, so only pausing to blow out the candle, I crawled into the small bed and fell asleep quickly.
The next morning I woke to the sunlight rising through my window and falling on my eyes. I stretched my limbs and breathed in the early morning air. I smiled and got dressed quickly. Just as I was finishing, a knock sounded at my door and I opened it to see Javan. He smiled at me and I felt my face responding. We went to the kitchen in silence, where we ate again. By now I was getting used to putting food into my body at regular times to stop the pain in my torso. Javan gave me a mug of something hot that felt good on my throat and made a comforting warmth deep in my middle.
I helped Javan clean up, once I watched him for a moment, things were easy for me. He looked at me for a long moment, before saying carefully; "You come from very far away and are not used to those things that are normal and commonplace to me, is that correct?" It seems as if he had been doing some thinking during the night. His eyes told me that he knew I was not a regular person, though he would not poke and pry at me. I told him that was correct and he continued. "Then since I am a priest and have devoted my life to helping those in need, I will show you our lives. I will show you how people live and how they act, in this part of the world at least," he added the last for my benefit.
The air outside was cool and damp, morning dew sparkling from the closed petals as we made our way out of the temple gardens. As we walked, he began speaking to me in a quiet voice so only I would hear. He pointed things out to me, the people walking towards the market that had to work for money to eat and live, others that opened their shops to do the same, and on and on. The people working around us were driven mostly by determination, he told me, the desire to live well, and sometimes by greed.
I spoke, interrupting his dialogue for the first time. "Those buildings there," I pointed, and he nodded. "The inns and taverns, yes?" He said, confirming.
"People work to make money to eat at places like those?" I said slowly, thinking out loud. And Javan nodded again. "I have no gold," I told him. "But you gave me food."
Javan smiled again. I liked his smile. I reminded myself to say more things that would make him smile.
"The Temple is much different than the taverns, dear Thana. The Temple gives to those that cannot provide for themselves. Many people who cannot work for their food come and work at the Temple. The Gods take care of those who do something at least to help themselves."
We passed by an older human male who was slumped over on the ground, holding his hand out to passers-by. He looked up at us and mumbled something, a strong smell coming from him. Javan bent over and said something to the male and dropped a few coins into his hand. The mortal said something else I could not hear, and Javan straightened, and we walked away. When we were far enough away, Javan sighed. "And some people are not even willing to work for the Temple for their meals. There are far too many of those. Laziness and sorrow mostly." He drifted off into silence. I looked at him for a moment before asking; "Did you join the Temple because you could not eat?"
Javan looked back to me and smiled softly again. "No. My father was one of the men that lived in this kind of house." He pointed to the houses in front of us, as we were passing through the merchant's square and into the part of the city where there were nothing but homes. The houses in front of us were very large, bigger than most of the stores and shops. They were behind tall fences and surrounded by gardens bigger than those around the Temple. "My father," Javan continued, "Was a very wealthy man. I am his youngest son, and as such, he did not need me as an heir. I wanted to serve the Gods, and when I was old enough, my father sent me to the Temple." We saw a rich looking female walking towards us. Javan smiled and greeted her, but she only smiled thinly and kept walking. "Many of the wealthy, though not all," Javan told me quietly. "Are prideful and arrogant. Though there are those that are very generous and kind and do much to help other people than themselves."
The houses around us were quiet, very different from the noisy markets behind us. We passed through quickly and Javan led us through more streets, until I was quite lost. I heard children laughing ahead and smiled in response. Javan took me to another Temple, this one to Hera, the Mother of the Gods. The priestesses in this Temple, Javan told me, along with their duties to the Gods, spent part of the day educating children. As we got closer, we saw the children playing in the gardens while two priestesses kept an eye on them. The children, both males and females, romped under the trees, chasing each other and laughing and shouting loudly.
Javan smiled fondly at them. "Children are generally happy creatures, they can find joy in the smallest of things."
A small female child ran up to us and solemnly handed us each a flower she had just picked. Dirt was still stuck to the roots and the stems had bent in her small fists. Her blonde hair was messy and her blue eyes were wide. Javan made much of the flowers, causing the child to smile widely and kiss his cheek. The priestess called to the children and the young female ran off, laughing like an angel. I looked down at my abused flower and touched a petal softly. For a moment it felt as if the joy the child had known passed through the flower to me. I smiled down at it and the warm feeling inside me slowly vanished, though I would always remember that feeling.
By then most of the morning had passed by. The priest and I returned to his Temple and ate what he called dinner. Javan left me to do his chores and duties once again. I returned outside and wandered the gardens, trying to sort out everything he had shown me. I decided to walk around the city on my own, knowing better than I did last time. Javan had given me a couple of silver coins and asked me to meet him back in the garden when the sun set.
I went back to the market, liking the noise and people around me. I watched people working and people buying with new eyes, and felt that I understood them more, and thus was closer to them. Eventually my feet took me to the fruit seller that I had crossed the day before. I watched the male from far away, but he did not look as threatening as he did before. I approached him cautiously and stood in front of his grapes. He did not look up from whatever it was he was doing below the counter.
"I would like to buy some grapes," I said quietly and he straightened. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it quickly when he saw me. I held out the coins. "I apologize for yesterday," I said.
He took the coins from me and his face turned red. "It is I that am sorry my Lady. I was insufferably rude yesterday, and far harsher than I should have been." He picked out a large bunch of the dark shiny grapes and wrapped them in a cloth square. He handed them to me and I smiled at him.
"Thank you sir," I said, remembering what the child had called Javan. "Thank you, my Lady, for forgiving me," he said and handed me some small coins back. I went on my way, grapes in one hand and coins in the other. I walked through the markets until I reached the busy square with the well. I sat down on one of the rough stone benches and watched the people passing by. I have never felt the sun's heat as an immortal, and I enjoyed the feel of it on my head and shoulders.
I sat for quite some time, and Apollo traveled across the sky while I watched the lives of mortals around me. I felt a presence next to me and looked over to see a small, dirty male child staring at me. His clothing was a bit ragged and he looked nothing like the happy child that had given me a flower. "Hello," I said softly to not scare him.
"'Lo," he said quietly.
"Would you like to sit down?" I asked him, not sure of what he wanted. The child sat down on the other end of the bench and continued to stare at me. I sat there, silent. I had no experience with children. Was he hungry? Should I send him back to the Temple?
The small male interrupted my worried thoughts. "Are you an angel?" He whispered. I smiled at him. "Why would you think that?" I thought his question was rather ironic, considering that older humans most likely kept him behaving by mentioning me.
"Angels are pretty," he said, a little louder. "And you're pretty." He shuffled closer to me. "Well perhaps I am an angel then, small one," I said, thinking there was no harm in indulging him.
"Will you help my mommy?" He asked me seriously.
"What is the matter with your mother?" I asked him back and he told me that his father died some time ago, and his mother had to work for their food, but it was not enough. They went hungry many nights. I thought quickly and when he stopped talking, I spoke.
"Do you know where the big Temple is? The one surrounded by all the gardens?" The child nodded. "Tell your mother to go there, to bring her with you, the priests are kind there, they will make sure you get enough food."
"Mommy says we're not allowed to go there." The child was now right next to me, leaning slightly against my leg. I patted his head gently, and a bit awkwardly.
"You tell her that I said you can go there. Tell her to ask for the priest named Javan, he will help you." The child stood up, and I stopped him before he could run off. I gave him my grapes and the coins I had left. "Take these to your mother as well."
He took my offerings sombrely and looked at them for a moment. He then looked up at me and smiled for the first time. He reached up and kissed my cheek. "Thank you angel," he whispered before running away.
I sat back and touched my cheek. There was a burning feeling in my eyes and I reached up, feeling wetness running down my cheeks. I wiped it away and stood up. I needed to find Javan, he would know what was the matter with me.
I quickly made my way back to the Temple, where Javan was waiting for me under one of the trees. He took one look at my distressed face and asked me what was wrong. I told him about the male child and he put his hand on my cheek, wiping away more wetness. "That was a wonderful thing you did for that boy," he said. "I do not know why you are upset." I wiped at my face and showed him my hand. "What is the matter with my eyes?" I asked him, distressed. He smiled and put his other hand on my other cheek, holding my face in between his hands. "Oh Thana," he said. "You possibly saved a mother and her son from starving, but you do not know what it is to cry. You are such a mystery!"
"I am not trying to be!" I told him and he laughed softly. "Do not be upset, my dear," he said. "Now come inside, we will have some supper, and then I want to show you something."
He led me inside. I wiped my face dry and caught his attention again. "Why did my eyes burn like that?" I asked him.
Javan looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "Well in these parts," he said. "When a person feels an emotion very strongly, sadness, happiness, anger, the body tries to release that strong emotion through tears."
We reached the kitchen, where a group of other humans were eating. It seems as if one of the priests had made food for the rest, so Javan did not have to do any extra work to find us something to eat. We sat at the end of the table, near another priest and a young male not in Temple robes. Supper, I was told, was a thick stew and brown bread, and the liquid in the mugs was an herbal tea. Once we were finished, we helped clean up and Javan took me outside again.
The sun was completely down, and the only lights were the moon and stars, and a few candle lanterns here and there. Javan took my arm and led me to a river near the edge of the city. The moonlight reflected off the water and illuminated a number of mortals, all in pairs. One of these pairs passed us by and I was able to see a female and male, arms entwined and leaning against each other. I looked at my own arm wrapped in Javan's and leaned against him experimentally. He chuckled and said quietly; "Look at their faces Thana."
I looked closer and saw that the couple was staring at each other with dreamy faces. Javan and I walked along the riverbank and he spoke quietly again. "I have shown you joy and pride and greed. I thought I should show you love."
"Love?" I asked. "What is that?"
"It is what you see on the young people's faces." He sighed. "Love is when you care for someone so deeply that that person is the most important to you, you would do anything for them. It is the greatest thing a person can share with somebody else."
I was not sure exactly what he meant, but I could tell by his face that he wanted to love somebody, and be loved by somebody very much. I decided to think about it later when I was alone. For now, I simply enjoyed walking in the cool evening air, the stars sparkling above and the water sparkling below.
The next morning was the same as before, Javan fetching me to resume our walk through the city. He was showing me the homes of the people not as wealthy as his father, when a wide and tall male approached us. He looked very angry, worse than the fruit seller had been. He stopped right in our path, so we were forced to stop or go around him, and it looked as if he would not let us go around.
"I told you not to come around here priest!" The human shouted. Javan held up his hands, trying to calm him. "I am not here to speak to you Acteon," Javan said in a soothing voice. "I gave you my word I would not try to help you anymore. I am simply passing through, showing this lovely Lady the city."
The bigger male narrowed his eyes and pointed his finger at the priest. "The Gods or their minions have no place here," he hissed and started to back away. Javan leaned over to me and spoke quietly.
"Acteon has had very bad luck lately. His wife left him, taking their son with her, and during the storm we had a while ago, lightning struck his house. It nearly burned to the ground. He has cursed the Gods and holds a violent grudge against them." Javan straightened, and looked down at me. "Acteon is an extreme example of anger and vengeance."
Immediately after Javan spoke, we heard roaring behind us. We spun around to see Acteon standing near enough to have heard every word Javan had spoke.
"You want to see anger and vengeance priest?" The male practically screamed. "You do the bidding of those pigs you call Gods, and you think you can hide behind them. If I ever see you again priest," he spat. "I will kill you!"
Javan looked calmly at the human before turning to me. "Come Thana, we should leave." He took my arm and walked swiftly back the way we had come. I kept looking back behind us until Acteon was out of sight. Javan took us back to the Temple gardens and we sat on a stone bench. I rubbed my chilled arms, cold not from the air, but from fear. There must have been a frightened expression on my face, for Javan patted my arm. "Do not worry," he said. "Some people like to blame the Gods for their troubles, it makes them feel better than if they thought themselves were to blame. But these people do not act out on that anger. Acteon's threats were nothing but putting his anger to words. Do not fear."
I leaned against him again, the heat from his body warming me. I hoped what he said was true. After a short while, Javan left, saying he would meet me for supper. I had no desire to return to the city, so I traced paths through the garden once more, letting my mind wander as much as my feet.
Eventually I had to stop and use a tree to support me. I had just realized something. Soon enough I would leave the earth and return to my former immortality. And not only was I a Goddess, I am the Goddess of Death. All humans see me once in their life. Eventually I would have to return in my cloak of immortality to collect dear Javan's soul.
Strong, consuming sadness welled up inside me, tightening my throat and burning my eyes. It overflowed, sending tears down my face. I leaned against the tree and cried, deep sobs into the rough bark. I did not want Javan to die, I did not want to see his dead body on the ground in front of me. I wanted him to stay the way he was forever.
I sat on the ground and rested against the tree until my tears dried and my throat stopped hurting. In an instant, my mind cleared. When I had seen that young female dying, I had thought that I understood. But I see now that I did not understand anything. I always see the end of life, but never the beginning. And never the middle of it, all those years between birth and death.
But I think I was beginning to understand now. Humans went through their lives searching for something, be it wealth, security or even love. Life was not about grief and sadness, though unfortunately those things happened far too often.
My thoughts were interrupted by Javan, who sat down next to me under the tree. "I was looking for you," he said and I noticed that the sun had set and the stars were already out. "I apologize," I said to him. "I did not realize how late it had gotten."
"Are you well?" He asked me.
"I will be fine," I answered. "I was just thinking."
"It is a lot to take in, in so short a time," he said slyly.
"What do you mean?" I asked, uncomfortable, and he slowly turned his head to look at me.
"I know that you are not what you seem, dear Thana," he said. "Perhaps you are an angel like you told that boy, perhaps you are a demon from the Underworld." He held up his hand to stop my protests. "I do not believe that you are a demon. But when I look in your eyes…" He drifted into silence as we looked into each other's eyes. I saw something in his eyes as well, and something else bloomed in my mortal heart.
"I can see the world in your eyes," he whispered.
I took his hand then and held onto it tightly with both of my own. I had just felt the stirring of something long familiar within me, and I knew my time on earth was short. "If you believe me to be an angel," I said in a rush. "Then believe me when I say this. I have to leave soon." He nodded, his eyes sad. "I have no choice," I told him honestly. "But if I did…" I left it unspoken, though he nodded again, knowing of what I meant.
I went to sleep that night troubled. I lay on the small cot and stared up at the stone ceiling, my mind running in circles. I felt a brief flash on kinship with the angry Acteon as I realized why I could not sleep. "Are you to give me such a gift, and then take it away as soon as I know what it is?" I asked out loud, hoping Hades could hear me. "You meant for this to happen, and you know that I love him. He possibly loves me as well, are you to crush his heart as well as mine?" I fell asleep with yet more tears sliding down my cheeks.
The next day I woke up to a signal going off deep inside my body. I winced and sat up, knowing that a mortal somewhere has died. The signal was very faint, an echo of what it used to be, but it was returning slowly. I did not have much time.
I got dressed quickly and made my way to the kitchen. Javan was already there, finding something for us to eat.
"I told one of the priestesses that I would help them over at the infirmary today," he said, handing me a thick mug. "Would you like to come with me?" The infirmary was past the houses where we met Acteon the previous day. I did not want to go there again, but I would not let Javan go alone.
As we were walking, my sense of dread continued to grow. Javan did not seem to notice, he simply pointed things out to me, thinking I was paying attention to him. But I was looking around everywhere, trying to keep an eye on our surroundings. I saw the infirmary ahead and breathed a silent sigh of relief. We were almost there.
I heard a scream from behind us and time seemed to slow. I turned around slowly to see Acteon running towards us, holding out a long wicked-looking knife. I felt the signal inside me begin and it intensified when I looked at Javan. No, I would not let it end like this. It is not his time.
As if I was trying to walk under water, I slowly moved until I was in front of the priest. I blocked him from the livid male and held my arms wide. Time resumed its normal pace and the impact of the knife knocked me senseless.
When I opened my eyes again, I was lying on the ground in a pool of my own blood, which was quickly draining out of me. Javan was cradling me in his arms, his tears dripping onto my face and running down my cheeks as if they were my own. I heard the sounds of a struggle far away and out of the corner of my eye, I saw three humans restraining Acteon. I looked into Javan's distressed eyes and tried to smile. The pain was new, but I did not have time to dwell on it. No time at all.
"Do not grieve for me," I whispered to him. He tried to silence me, but I persisted. "It is my time to leave." I reached up, my arm tripled in weight, and placed a hand on his cheek. "I have given you your life back," I told him. "But you have given me far more in return. You have given me love. And hope. I go to my rightful place now, but without the sorrow that weighed me down. You gave me that. I will always love you dear Javan. You have to go on," I said, my words hard to speak now. "Go on, and do not forget me…But do not close yourself off, you need to love…and be loved…"
I left my body then and was immediately sent back to the field of dead trees. I felt my immortality in place, my grip on human emotions fading to a memory and not a feeling. But my consuming sorrow was gone, replaced by the dawn of hope. I took one step and was back in the city, now standing over my dear Javan, who was still holding my mortal body. I looked at him and was still able to feel love, and I smiled. I placed my hand on Javan's head and though I was not able to come into contact, my hand passing straight through him, I think he felt it just the same. I whispered to him; "I love you," and he quieted, laying my body gently on the ground.
I stepped back and watched as Javan stood up and composed himself. He touched a hand to my body's forehead and I heard him reply; "I love you as well, dearest Thana."
I went back to my field, not wanting to watch the disposal of my body. I kept Javan in my mind as I walked through the familiar trees.
You humans are luckier than you think, for you are mortal and you can feel. The deities are emotionless creatures and do not realize how blessed the mortals actually are. They are born, they live, and they die, as all mortals do, but the Gods are timeless, loveless and hopeless. I do not know how I will be able to stand their presences anymore, knowing how wrong they all are. Everything has changed for me now, but I do not regret. My short time on earth has given me an eternity of hope. I hope Javan will live long and find somebody to love him as much as I do. I hope I never forget what it was to feel the emotions of a mortal. I hope the Gods will some day understand as much as I do, that the mortals are the fortunate ones, and we, the cursed and unfortunate.
Oh Javan, what fools we immortals be…