The other night, or, more accurately, very early morning, while I was supposed to be ironing out details for In a Certain Light, I wrote this instead. Borrowing from the Callisto myth again, and, for a change, the French! Though most of my knowledge of Ys comes from Byatt, ah well. Hope you enjoy it. And, of course, heaps of thanks to ilex-ferox who betaed (with lightening speed) despite the chaos.
'Once upon a time,' her voice was soft, rhythmic, like the sea, 'there was a city filled with women.'
He raised an eyebrow.
'Beautiful women,' she continued, as though she hadn't seen that sceptical eyebrow, 'who loved life. They were fierce and intelligent. They were strong and brave. They did not need men. Oh, they took lovers, but only on their own terms. But, worst of all, some of the women ... some of the women took no men at all. They refused the men and took each other to bed instead. And the men couldn't stand it.'
'Yes, what barbaric Neanderthals we men are,' he remarked dryly.
She smiled a little. 'Well, yes. Because it was human men, you see, that caused the problem. The city was a fairy city; it was magical, and the women were magical too. They were mermaids, selkies, sirens – and whatever else you people have called us. You get us all confused, you know. One day we're half fish, the next we're seals, and the day after we're part bird. But we're always irresistible. You never forget that. And it's funny – it's always our fault. Our fault that you can't keep away. Our fault that we were born beautiful. You're all so self-centered. They sang us into the sea. They sang until we came to them and drowned. They seduced us to our deaths. Did no one ever stop to think for one minute that perhaps we were simply singing? That perhaps we just enjoyed making music? That, perhaps, we would rather not have had an audience? No. No one ever did.'
'You're taking this all very personally.' He looked down at her slender legs, 'And yet I don't see your tail.'
She snorted. 'I don't need a tail to feel stereotyped. Though, it helps,' she admitted, 'that one of my great-grandmothers was from Ys.'
'There is another version of this story, you realise.' Artemis arched his eyebrows inquiringly.
'Yes, of course.' She laughed without mirth. 'That the women of Ys were harlots, that they were whores so lost to pleasure that their queen sold herself to the devil and so her city was drowned beneath the waves. And in its place rose Paris, city of men. Man's city of debauchery.' She tilted her head to the side. 'That part, at least, is true; Paris is a man's city. And the women were whores there. Or they were simply raped. Cheaper that way.'
'Oh, really? And what, pray tell, is the true story?'
'That the women of Ys were happy. That they lived in peace and freedom. And the men could not stand it. Dahut, their queen, spurned the love of a human man, choosing another instead, and, so spurned, he went mad with jealousy. He turned her father against her; he turned all the men, so easily persuaded, against her and her sisters. It wouldn't have been hard to do. The male ego is so easily bruised. Those men, they couldn't stand to see all those women disregard them, refusing to do what they had been told to do. Clearly the women were sluts who had no decency left, who were so riddled with vice and wanton pleasure that the only good, moral thing to do would be to drown them. Punish them. Put them down like mad dogs. Because you must realise,' she turned to him then, 'that though humans do not have magic, though you have always been so far behind us in terms of technology and society, you have this incredible capacity for cruelty. For destruction. And no magic can match it. It's incredible, this power you have. You have put many names to it, given it many faces. You hide it behind liberation and religion, even petty greed. But really, in the end, all it is, is an insatiable desire to rip to pieces anything and everything that you cannot have or cannot be. And that is how the men of the world drowned Ys and all of its women.' Caught up in her story, she wasn't as careful with her words as she should have been.
Artemis looked even more sceptical. 'I find it rather hard to believe that a gang of jealous men – priests, actually, according to some stories – brought down a tidal wave and sank an entire city.'
'Do you?' she asked. 'Why? Did a gang of men not build a bomb that turned the population of an entire city into sooty smears on their bunker walls? So they called it the Atom bomb and the others called it the power of God, what's the difference?'
'Well, to begin with, more than half a millennium of scientific progress. There is no possible way –'
'And yet the city did drown.'
Artemis exhaled loudly through his nose. 'It's only a story. A simple fairytale for children when they go to bed.'
'Sure,' she agreed, 'if you want to give your daughters nightmares.'
He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned.
'Don't you believe in fairytales, Artemis?' she asked quietly.
The problem was that it needed to be a human male. A fairy wouldn't do. This was old magic and it was fussy. When Dahut, the legendary queen of Ys, had rung the council saying that they had finally unravelled the curse that kept them there, so far beneath the water, unable to leave the confines of their city, the Council had been delighted. Many had relatives trapped in Ys: mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters. Their imprisonment had not happened so long ago that they had been forgotten by their fairy kin. Human memories were short, but the People's went back to the very beginning.
"The answer was," Dahut said,"really very simple. But then, they usually are, with these sorts of things, aren't they?" she laughed, a self-deprecating sort of smile on her beautiful lips.
They needed a human male to love a daughter of Ys enough to let her go. And if one such could be found, the magic would break and be nothing but ash and a bitter memory. Ys would rise once more with the morning sun and its women would be free again.
"Obviously," Dahut continued, "this is all symbolic. No human male will ever love a woman of the People like that. What we need is a symbolic gesture. Is there a human man who has captured a fairy? A female? Is there a human man who would consent to take his captive to the seashore of Brittany and let her loose as the morning rises? It seems a bit silly, I know," the Queen shook her head. "But that's old magic for you. All about sunrises and captives and true love. But just a symbol would work."
"Of course," she pointed out, "it would be better if there was some connection between the captor and the captive. Something to reinforce the gesture. But then, this is a Mud Man we're talking about ..." she added bitterly.
After a moment of contemplative silence from the Council, she sighed. "I suppose we're back where we started, really. We've solved the riddle but fat lot of good it's done us."
'Actually,' came a voice from the visitors' gallery, 'I know someone who could do that. I know someone ...' the voice faltered, 'who already has.'
Every head in the room swung towards the speaker, a redhead with one brown eye and one blue one.
'Hello Mr. Fowl,' the woman had held out her hand for him to shake. It was slender and dark, with long, tapered fingers. A musician's hand? No, he thought, the cuticles are ragged and the calluses aren't on the fingertips.
'Miss ... Little? Is that right?' He smiled a dangerous-looking smile and shook her hand.
'Yes, Callisto Little.'
He had thought that, perhaps, she would have been startled, taken aback, by his predatory smile and cold eyes. Instead, she looked at him with something that seemed to border on fondness. He frowned.
'You said you have a business proposition for me?' he prompted.
'Yes,' she said again. 'I'll admit, however, that it's ... it's a bit odd.'
He sneered at her. 'Why else do you think I bothered to see you? I am bored and you are intriguing.'
She only became more intriguing when, instead of being insulted, she laughed, her face lighting up.
Artemis narrowed his eyes, one brown eye and one blue one.
Dahut eyed the elf who stood before the screen with evident curiosity. 'You would do that? Put you yourself in the hands of a man who kidnapped you? A Mud Man the council has deemed dangerous enough to mind wipe not once, but twice?'
Holly's lips thinned. 'He isn't dangerous. At least, not to me. Not to us. Or, he wasn't. There's no telling how he's regressed since the council saw fit to wipe him.' Holly sagged a little, her shoulders drooping. 'Honestly,' she admitted, her voice flat, 'he's probably horrible. The last time I went to fetch him after he'd been mind wiped, he'd reverted to his old self.' She frowned at something off-screen. 'But that was so many years ago, surely ... surely, between then and the second time, he changed enough not to ... not to ...'.
Dahut thought that perhaps Holly was trying to convince herself, more than the queen. She said nothing.
'At any rate,' Holly's eyes snapped back to the other's, 'we don't really have any other options. My mother's mother came from Ys. And a human man has held me captive. Holds me captive. I will do it.'
'Holds you captive? How? The council says there has been no contact between you and the Fowl boy for seven years. What hold could he possibly have on you?'
Holly stared at the Queen of Ys. 'I owe him. The council told me they wanted to discuss a possible job offer with him, some sort of co-operative thing, and asked me to bring him. So I did. And he came, because he trusted me, because I was his friend. And I brought him to them, him and Butler, and they ambushed us. Not even Artemis suspected it. Why should he have? They had sent such tasty bait.' She looked away again. 'I didn't know,' she licked her lips. 'I didn't know. How will I ever make him believe me?'
'And why,' Dahut asked gently, 'did they want to mind wipe him?'
Holly gave her a crooked grin. 'Because they thought – there was an incident in a zoo, you see – they thought that a human man had fallen in love with a daughter of Ys.'
'It's very simple, really,' the woman said. 'I want you to travel to Brittany with me. Next week, for Beltane. You do know what –'
'Yes,' Artemis replied testily, 'yes, I know what is.'
'Good,' she smiled at him again. 'You will come with me to Brittany; and we will go to the beach on Beltane morning; and you will tie my wrists; and we will walk into the water and, as the sun comes over the horizon, you will let me go.'
Artemis blinked. Then, abruptly, he stood. 'Miss Little, I am a busy man. I do not have time to indulge the peculiar fantasies of even more peculiar women. If this is all you have to say to me, I suggest you leave.'
Once again, the woman surprised him. She leaned back in her chair and laughed at him. 'I thought you were bored, Artemis? I thought you brought me here to entertain yourself? Scared already? Usually you have more pluck than this. I haven't even finished yet. Be a good boy and sit down again.'
He licked his lips. Her words were careless and informal. She spoke to him as though she had spoken to him many times before. A good boy ... .
'Have we met before, Miss Little?' he asked, his voice cold and repressive.
She looked away from him. He saw her eyes close momentarily as she swallowed hard. Guilt rattled briefly around in his stomach. But, when she turned back to him, her expression was impassive. If anything, her features seemed to have sharpened, and, though her face was calm, her eyes were fierce.
'I am going to tell you a story, Artemis,' she said.
Foaly printed out her papers. 'I took your middle name,' he told her, 'and tweaked your last one a bit. It's so fitting, after all.'
'Ha, ha,' Holly rolled her eyes. 'Yes, you're terribly witty, Foaly. As if every kid in school didn't make fun of short Holly Short. '
'But I do it with so much more style,' Foaly smirked, and handed her a Canadian passport, driver's licence and SIN card.
'Callisto Little?' Holly glanced up from her new ID. 'He'll never believe that's a real name.'
'Well,' Foaly replied mildly, 'he doesn't really need to, does he?'
Slowly, Holly nodded.
'There is a condition.' Holly stared the Privy Secretary straight in the eye.
'Oh yes?' The sprite sniffed.
'His memory will be returned.'
The Council Room went silent.
'Out of the question,' said Councillor Rapthorn. 'You do recall why we wiped him, don't you, Captain Short? We can't have a Mud Man running around harbouring those sorts of feelings, can we?'
Those who did not know the circumstances surrounding Artemis Fowl's second mind wipe – and they were the majority – began muttering amongst themselves.
Holly shrugged. 'Okay. Then it's not happening.'
Over the ensuing outcry, Dahut spoke from her screen. Her hair was dark against the sea behind her and her eyes were heavy-lidded. 'One would think,' she spoke softly but her voice was beautiful; but her voice was terrible, 'that a little love between our people would be a cause for joy, not retribution. Wouldn't you agree, Councillor Rapthorn?'
What man could refuse such a woman?
'And what will you give me, should I go with you to Brittany and stand in a very cold ocean at an ungodly hour of the morning?' Artemis asked her.
'Everything I have,' she replied, serious. Her lips twitched suddenly. 'And something you will not remember that you have lost.'
Artemis chuckled, clearly humouring her. 'Something I don't remember? Miss Little, please, do you really think –'
'But you are curious, aren't you?' she asked. 'After all, what could I possibly have of yours that you don't remember losing?'
'Precisely,' Artemis replied dryly.
'Well, you're just going to have to wait and see.' And then she smiled at him again, as though his disdain were a gift and a joy.
'Why me?' he asked suddenly. 'Why do you need me for this?'
She chuckled at some private joke and said, 'Because, Artemis, I couldn't do without you.'
'Was the Council correct?' Dahut asked Holly. 'Did he love you?'
Holly licked her lips. 'He was young. Too young to know himself.' She knew this was a lie.
'From what I can gather, Artemis Fowl is quite aware of what he wants, Captain Short.'
'Yes ... I suppose, I suppose he is.' Holly didn't seem to mind being caught out in a lie. She shrugged helplessly but, with sudden viciousness, said, 'I don't know! I don't ... yes, he did. I think. He seemed ... no, I don't know. It's Artemis. Who can tell? He may have. He did ... he did care a great deal.'
'And my daughter of Ys, does she love him in return?'
'She ...' Holly shrugged again, 'she doesn't know. She may.'
'I see,' said the Queen.
'And how, exactly, does our aquatic escapade connect to your delightful bedtime tale?' Artemis asked her, as they sat across from each other on the TGV from Paris to Rennes.
'It's the ending to the story,' she shrugged.
'Oh yes? Giving these sirens back their freedom are we?' he chuckled contemptuously. 'How kind of us. There is, you know, another ending.'
She laughed, 'Of course I know. That, when Paris falls, Ys will rise again. Always the male ego seeking to console itself. Paris has nothing to do with Ys' return. It doesn't matter in the slightest.'
'Always the female pride seeking to assert its independence,' he shook his head, imitating her disdainful tone of voice.
She grinned at him. Surprising himself, he smiled back.
'You'll have to wear this,' Foaly told her, holding out a brown wig. 'It'll hide your ears. And besides, there aren't a lot of human redheads out there with your skin colouring.'
Holly sighed and took the proffered hairpiece. Slipping a head band around her ears to keep their tips tucked in place, she slid the wig over her head. She shook her head experimentally. The hair was longer than she had worn hers in decades. She pushed her fringe to the side, already irritated by the feeling of hair brushing her cheeks.
'It's obnoxious having it so long.'
Foaly smiled at her fondly. 'It's a bob, Holly.'
'Well, I don't like it, whatever it is.'
'Well, let's see what dear Arty thinks of it, shall we?'
'Go jump in a magma chute, Foaly.'
Of course, it was all very dubious. When he thought about it, there was really no good reason – no monetary reason, at any rate – why he should go with her. He hadn't even taken Butler with him. A day at the beach in Brittany? And all this talk of Ys: nothing but feminist ranting and old wives' tales. He shook his head at the passing French countryside.
So why was he here then? In this train? To be truthful, he didn't really know. But he had been bored ... And she was so very intriguing ... And the way she spoke to him ... . He narrowed his eyes, watching her watch the sky.
If it was an attempt at kidnapping or murder, it was laughable. A kidnapper would have thought up a more plausible story. This was too fanciful, too shaky a ploy, to be something serious. He could very easily have said no. And, had it be anyone else, he probably would have. So the question was, of course, who the hell was she?
The setting sun fell through the low clouds and came blazing into their carriage. She turned to face him then, with the red light of the sun on her. And all around her face her dark hair was alight.
A name came into his mind, then an image. Then more and more until every space in his mind, that had been empty and silent, was full. In that moment, he knew who she was. He remembered. And he remembered what she had done.
She smiled at him again, but he did not return it and so her smile faltered and faded.
She had rolled up her trousers to her knees and waded out into the water. He watched her as she walked along the sand and rocks enjoying the feel of the salt air on her face. He looked up, towards the horizon. The sky was white and there was a telltale hint of gold along the line of the ocean. The sun would be rising soon.
'Come here, Holly, I still need to tie you up.'
She laughed. 'In your dreams, Arte –'
She stared at him.
'You remember me?'
'When? How? This whole time?'
'No. Last night. I'm afraid you're rather difficult to expunge.' He held out a piece of cloth and she came to him. Docile like she never had been before, she let him bind her wrists, watching him tie the knots.
'I didn't know, Artemis. I didn't. You must believe me. Would I have taken you to them if I had?' she spoke at last, skipping right to the most important thing, as he guided her into the water. He stood precariously on a low rock, trying to keep dry.
'I don't know, would you have?' He asked, his voice completely controlled.
'No!' She made such a violent movement of negation with her hands that she nearly ripped them out of his grasp. 'Never! I'm not, I'm not -' but she closed her mouth on whatever she had been about to say.
He smiled coldly. 'Not what? Not me? Is that what you were about to say?'
'Artemis – '
'The sun is rising,' he interrupted. The white sky turned to gold, then orange, then red.
Holly offered him her wrists as he took a knife from his jacket pocket.
He took her hands in one of his and, for a moment, his face was terribly young. He looked her in the eyes, asking, as though he couldn't help himself, 'Then why did it take you so long to come back?'
And he cut away the cloth.
It fell into the water, snaking around Holly's ankles. Her wrists were still bared to him, and he still held her hands and the knife.
She had no answer for him.
A time-stop went up. Cam-foil went down, revealing hordes of LEP engineers, divers, techies. The deserted beach exploded into barely controlled chaos. Slowly, from blood-red water, rose the towers of Ys.
LEP operatives swarmed onto the rocks; anti-gravity floats were deployed, dodging the rivers of water sliding off domes and spires.
For the first time all morning, no one was paying attention to the two people standing in the shallows.
'The name 'Little' is obvious, but why 'Callisto'?' he asked her. They had retreated to the cliff base, watching the activity from as far away as the time-stop would allow. 'Any reason?'
'It's my middle name,' Holly told him.
'I see. Callisto.' He rolled the name around in his mouth thoughtfully. 'I don't suppose you know the legend behind the name. Or do the People have their own version of that as well?'
'No, we don't.' She smiled at his jab. 'It's a human story through and through, but, yes, I know it. My mother liked human myths. Callisto was a follower of the Goddess Artemis, one of her virgin huntresses.' She snorted, 'Don't worry, the irony doesn't escape me.'
'I hadn't expected it to.'
When she didn't continue he nudged her with his elbow. 'Well? What about the rest? How Callisto broke her vows of chastity and slept with Zeus and so, to punish her for her disloyalty, Artemis turned her into a bear.'
'I know that and more. Callisto was never disloyal. Zeus came to her in the form of Artemis and tricked her. Do you think Callisto would lie down for any other?'
'I wouldn't know,' he replied coldly.
She gave him a pitying look. 'And what about Artemis? Was she any better? Vows of chastity are all well and good, but, if you're so jealous that you turn someone into a bear for sleeping with another when you aren't even sleeping with them yourself, there's obviously some less than chaste thoughts going on. Artemis was jealous and, in her jealousy, turned her back on her lover. Rational people ask questions. Rational people don't overreact. Rational people don't cast out those who love them for making honest mistakes.'
She paused, watching him, her head tilted to one side. She had taken her wig off and her hair made a halo around her face.
'But what about you, Artemis? Will you cast me out?'
Artemis was silent for a moment. 'No,' he said at last. 'That's the problem with being a deity: if no one believes in you, you no longer exist. And you may be my only devotee.'
She laughed. 'You're exaggerating, as usual. What about Butler?'
'I suppose that's true.' The corners of his mouth twitched. 'Still, excommunicating fifty percent of one's flock seems a bit extreme.'
'Well, you have always run to excess.'
He nodded, smiling faintly.
Dahut found them as things were wrapping up.
Artemis swallowed, and looked away from her overwhelming beauty.
'I came to thank you,' she smiled down at Holly, sitting in the sand.
The elf shrugged with one shoulder. 'I should be the one thanking you. I would never have had this opportunity otherwise.'
The Queen nodded. 'Thank you as well, Human. It was good of you to come. It's good to know that ... well -' she smirked down at the pair of them and shrugged to herself.
'What will they do with the city?' Artemis asked.
Holly chuckled. 'Sink it again.'
Artemis turned to her in astonishment.
Dahut licked her lips, giving him a wolfish grin. 'Not like it was. Like Atlantis is. Ys was trapped, you see. No one could leave and no one could enter. They could phone, sure, but there was a physical barrier that kept them cut off. And, let me tell you, long distance calls to Ys cost a fortune! But they'll sink it properly this time. With a transport system and a proper protection bubble and cam-walls to keep out the deep sea divers. But who knows? Every now and again, some poor fisherman might hear the women singing and, leaning over the edge of his boat ...'
She winked at him.
They stood in the station, waiting. Their only company was a homeless man asleep beside a garbage bin on platform two. The sun was still low in the sky. Holly stood on a bench beside Artemis as they watched the tracks.
She reached up, smoothing his jacket unnecessarily. 'I'll come to visit,' she said.
'How ordinary we sound right now.'
She nodded, laughing quietly.
'I have just one question,' he said after a moment.
Holly groaned. 'Of course you do.'
'Callisto. Why did she lie down at all? Even if it was Artemis, she had taken vows.'
His companion clicked her tongue. 'For a genius, you're pretty thick sometimes. Don't you realise?'
'Yes,' he replied, 'but I want to be sure. I want to hear it out loud.'
'You do, do you?' Holly cocked her head and looked him in the eye. 'Because Callisto would never refuse Artemis anything; because there was nothing Artemis could ask for that Callisto would not happily give. That's why.'
'No matter the cost?'
'Apparently not,' Holly said, pulling a face.
'Thank you,' said Artemis, his expression serious.
'You're more than welcome,' Holly told him, smoothing his jacket once more. 'Don't get into trouble on your way home.'
'No,' he replied. 'No, I won't.'
'Good,' she said. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek, like she used to when he was younger. And then she vanished.
'I'll see you next weekend,' said Artemis to thin air.