I was not really drawn to him, as he would later sing in his melancholy couplets. That I met him when I did was of my own doing.

The leaves were changing color and everyone was out picking, hunting, harvesting anything that could be harvested in preparation for winter. Housework was commonly neglected and long shreds of spider webs drooped from our ceiling beams. "You'll hang yourself on one of those," grandmother would say plucking each as she found it.

Tired of being around people, especially my cloyingly cheerful friends, I felt a tickle of irritation spreading from my groin to my chest each time a spontaneous outburst of laughter shook the heavy air around. That day, I told my mother I was going by the Eye Lake, the closest of the seven Rhodope lakes to gather herbs. If she disapproved of my going off in the middle of the great harvest she did not say anything. Vexation did not hide well in me.

The familiar climb to the lake slowed my thoughts and I relaxed my jaw. Soon the sounds of the forest disappeared into a strange song coming from the nearest lakeshore. I reached the small clearing atop the peak and saw him. He was so concentrated and seamless, it seemed he was teasing not the lyre itself but the air around it. The song was something plaintive about love, the words themselves trite, but all the forest, every creature inside listened to him in silence. As for me, every string felt as if it were attached to my flesh and, when plucked, tore it painfully apart. My stomach turned over. The song ended, he got up and I noticed he was a young man, thin, and hunched over ever so slightly. He was rather mousy looking.

"You are Orpheus," I said.

"That I be." He tried to hide the smile, which gushed under his face. "You know me?"

"We have all heard of the man who charms beast and nature alike with his songs here. I am Eyridice from the town of Erikstes. Pray stay the night with us. We are in the middle of a harvest and your songs would be a welcome respite from the hard toil of the season."

Without a moment's thought he accepted my invitation, gave a belabored speech about his gratitude, and followed me down the mountain and into the town.

The arrival of so celebrated a song master interrupted the harvest, for everyone wanted to be close to Orpheus, hear Orpheus sing, watch Orpheus relieve himself in the nearby groves. And the bard reveled in the town's attention. His ballads became more wistful and tormented with each passing day. He sighed and his breath turned into song upon leaving his lips. Soon melancholy fell upon Erikstes like fog. The young brooded on the streets, shoulders folded in. Lovers readily accused one another of wrongdoing. The elders sang shakily of loss and despair.

When the moon grew from a sickle to a cat eye, Orpheus announced his decision to leave the town on the following day before the Eriksteans gathered in the center square. He was to head for the sacred Kogaionon Mountains through the city of Apros. Women who had received his attention, and they were not few, wept openly. I noticed my sister's eyes darkening and suddenly realized she was grown up.

"You could not have fallen for his act," I smiled.

Her eyes narrowed in my direction.

"Don't be a hypocrite. I have seen you listen to Orpheus's songs gaping- mouthed yourself. You are only happy because once he leaves people will be asking your stories again. Then you can play reluctant and let them praise you until their voices run off before you tell a story."

I shook her criticism off.

"That his songs hold a sway over people, I cannot dispute. That so many women have caused him grief is hard to believe. Look around you." I swept the air around with my hand.

"All those are but girls caught up in the crowd's emotions and emotion is too fleeting to be love."

"And you think you are different? You have witnessed nothing but his misery. You cannot base a complex feeling on a single trait. And if he is naught but misery..."

As soon as I said that, I realized how condescending I sounded.

"Better to live with misery than with your constant anger."

Slowly, she let herself smile and we broke into a laugh.

"I am angry because you are always an irritation."

In truth, I was not certain I was perpetually annoyed. Or at whom. I knew I resented my friends for being constantly happy despite the hard life in the mountains. I certainly resented the townspeople for not abandoning this struggling, inconsequential settlement. I resented the heroes whose deeds I extolled in my stories for living the adventures I was meant to live. And I resented the Gods for giving me this dark, irritable mind and abandoning me in such place.

"I may not be an irritation for long now," Bendidora said, growing serious again.

Shading my eyes from the sun with my hand, I tilted my head in a question.

"I cannot tell you now but I promise you will be the first to hear tomorrow," she said.

I did not pursue an answer. Bendidora, gift of Bendis, was as clandestine as the moon Goddess after whom she was named. If she said tomorrow, there was no way I could find out today.

My father found her wandering empty-eyed near the city walls the next morning. She could not say a word, nor did she speak since. Instead she shook her head from time to time and hummed something happily to herself. The priest of Bendis said the Goddess has taken her gift back because we had not performed the necessary sacrifices after the great harvest but did not say what we had to sacrifice. So I helped my father slay our entire herd over the altar of Bendis while my mother poured ceremonial libations from gold rhytons over the smoldering animal flesh. We offered so many sheep and cattle that scavengers fed upon the remains for an entire moon.

But the apocryphal prophesy of the priest was to come true as Bendidora died soon after. After she was buried we saw that we had nothing left but our winter reserves and the sympathy of Eriksteans. I thought this a suitable time to announce my decision to leave the city. I wanted to go after Orpheus. A neighbor girl had disappeared in the same evening as my sister and was never found. The bard had left the following morning. "One is Gods' doing, two – a coincidence, three is a pattern," I remembered my grandmother's words. Inured to death, the townspeople paid no heed to those events, but I needed to know what had happened to my sister. My parents had not the strength nor will to protest. For the last two moons their vitality had drained away as if it was their blood that had flowed from the slit throats of our cattle.

I packed a spare set of hardy clothing. My mother and grandmother competently rubbed salt into a large amount of our stored meat, expertly pressed it into a rather small and surprisingly heavy bag (and would I please not travel the forests at night, especially in a snowstorm, and might I bother to talk reverently to my elders, and how could I be doing this to them after all they have gone through this year). I exhaled with relief when I threw the two bags over my shoulders and stepped out of the city walls and into the forest, the chorus of my family's goodbyes chanting in the distance.