April 6, 2019

WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Maria Carvalho

Shapes and colors filled in among
the stars of the grand stallion
glittering against the dark sky...
“You call that clean? How many times do I have to tell you I expect this floor to gleam?” demanded Adriani, contempt etched on her time-worn face.

Kallea sighed inwardly. Adriani may not have been royalty, but her vast riches made her act like a queen.

“Yes, my lady. I’m very sorry, my lady. I’ll give it another scrubbing,” she said in the servile, groveling tone she knew from far too much experience worked best to diffuse Adriani’s volatile temper. Kallea had long suspected that the extra ire she was subjected to compared to the other servants had nothing to do with the quality of her work and everything to do with Adriani’s jealousy over her beauty.

“See that you do!” the matron of the manor barked as she swept out the arched front entrance to her waiting stagecoach.

Kallea looked down at the already-shining stone floors, a familiar pit of despair gnawing at her insides. Her knuckles and knees were scraped raw, and she still had so many other tasks to complete before she could see Calix. It killed her that her beautiful boy had been born into this life of servitude just as she had, and spent his days laboring on the grounds while she toiled inside. She wanted so much more for him, but she couldn’t see any way for either of them to escape. People of their class had little choice but to work as servants for Greece’s wealthy land owners, who believed that providing food and shelter was a fair trade for relentless labor. Kallea was sure that the demands of their harsh existence were responsible for her beloved husband’s untimely death when Calix had been only a year old.

When she had finally finished her work, she hurried to the servants’ quarters for a simple dinner with Calix, then they walked to their favorite lookout spot up on the hill behind the grounds of the estate. In the distance, the Aegean Sea glimmered under a sky flecked with stars that appeared to tumble into the ocean at the horizon. Calix nestled against his mother as they settled in the tall grass, exhausted from another long day but not wanting to let on how tired he was. He savored every moment of their evenings together, when his mother, her dark eyes alight, would spin tales of mythic gods and legends, carrying him far away from reality. Sometimes they fell asleep out there, not waking until the far-off calls of sea wrens signaled the dawn.

“Tell me the Pegasus story, manoula,” he implored her, and she smiled. Although she’d relayed the tale of the mythical horse countless times, he never grew weary of hearing it, and she never tired of telling it.

“Okay, my love. Long, long ago, there was a beautiful winged horse named Pegasus who lived here on Earth. He was the child of the god Poseidon and Medusa. One day, a warrior named Bellerophon made Pegasus carry him into battle, and it helped him win, so he kept on using Pegasus to fight. He became so arrogant from all his victories that he decided to make Pegasus fly him to Mount Olympus, where the gods lived and ruled, because he thought they should honor him. Zeus—the most powerful of all the gods there—was furious that a mere human would have such nerve, so he sent a horsefly to bite Pegasus during their journey. It made him rear up, sending Bellerophon plummeting back down to Earth, but Zeus let Pegasus continue on to Mount Olympus and gave him a home in the stables there.”

“And?” prompted Calix. “What about the part that papouli told you?”

“Ah, of course. How could I forget your grandfather’s story?” Kallea teased. “Well, there’s a lesser-known legend that when the gods of Mount Olympus began to lose their powers over Earth, they moved to the heavens; Zeus turned them into stars so that they could continue on forever in a new domain. All of the gods, goddesses, and their children went to this new kingdom, except for one: Eryx, the half-human son of the goddess Aphrodite. He was in love with a woman whose parents were both human, so she could not go to the stars with the gods.”

“And Eryx gave up the chance to live forever in the star-world to be with his true love?” asked Calix, already knowing the answer.

“That’s right,” Kallea replied. “He stayed behind—the only person left on Earth with the blood of the gods in his veins. Aphrodite and Zeus were unhappy, but there was nothing they could do about it from their new realm. They asked Selene, the moon goddess, if she could help bring Eryx to them, but she refused because she was angry that they had intruded upon her domain.

Centuries passed. It was like the blink of an eye to the gods, but during that time, Eryx had his own children, then his children had children, and so on. Aphrodite had given up hope that her kin on Earth could ever come to the stars, but then things changed: an enormous meteor came hurtling at the moon, and the gods in the stars combined their powers to change its path, sparing Selene from certain devastation. She was so grateful that she devised a plan to gradually bring Aphrodite’s descendants on Earth to the gods’ kingdom in the stars.”

“What was the plan?” Calix inquired with a grin, for this was his favorite part of the story.

“She would bring the constellation of Pegasus to life so that he could fly down to Earth to bring back Aphrodite’s kin,” his mother said. “But Selene only had enough power to make this happen when the moon was full and centered in the heart of Pegasus, and the horse could only retrieve someone that was in view of the full moon. Such a series of events happened only rarely, but over thousands of years, Pegasus was able to bring back almost all of Aphrodite’s kin. Each time he brought someone from Earth to the realm of the gods, a new star appeared in the heavens. Now, according to the legend, only a few such people still walk the Earth, unaware that they are the last humans descended from the gods.”

Calix sighed, thinking longingly about how amazing it would be to have Pegasus sweep him away to live forever among the stars with the gods. He knew it was only a story, but he still got excited whenever he saw a full moon—although he’d never once seen it come close to being in the center of Pegasus.

Later that night, he dreamed that he was standing out on the hill, watching fireflies shimmering like tiny mirrors reflecting the moonlight. Looking skyward, he was stunned to see the full moon in the heart of the Pegasus constellation. An unfamiliar energy surged through his body, as if some long-dormant part of him were stirring to life. Then, in front of his awestruck eyes, shapes and colors began to fill in among the stars of Pegasus, revealing the image of the grand stallion glittering brightly against the dark canvas of the sky. Spellbound, Calix watched as the horse’s massive wings began to rise, and then Pegasus pulled away from the heavens and soared through the air, heading straight towards him. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe as the epic steed descended, his luminous white coat and golden hooves radiant in the moonlight.

Pegasus landed softly on the hillside and knelt down beside Calix. Without hesitation, the boy scampered onto his back and wrapped his arms tightly around the horse’s neck, his lustrous coat like cool satin against Calix’s skin. Pegasus stood and broke into a run, his strength and power reverberating through Calix as he clung on, winding his fingers through the horse’s silky mane to secure himself. Then they were lifting up, the steady beat of Pegasus’ immense wings sending waves of cool night air rushing over the boy. As they flew higher, Calix was filled with a joyous sense that he was going home. But he suddenly thought of his mother; he looked down and saw the manor receding in the distance, and tried to call out to tell Pegasus to go back for her, but no sound came out. He jerked awake, breathless and shaking.
Another long year passed. Then, on a crisp night in October, Adriani was jolted awake by a brilliant light flashing through her bedroom window. She watched it slide quickly from the ceiling of her bedroom chamber down to the floor, then it disappeared.

Frightened, she lay unmoving, wondering what could have caused it. A short time later, the light flooded through her window once more, this time sweeping from the floor to the ceiling before vanishing.

When several minutes had ticked past without further incident, Adriani braved getting out of bed and walked to the window to look outside. She didn’t see anything stirring on the grounds, which were well-lit by the moon. Perplexed, she wondered whether the servants were behind the odd light. Had they decided it would be funny to play a trick on her? Pulling on her heavy dressing robe in a huff, she marched down to their quarters, ready to catch them at their game. But all was quiet, save for the sounds of snoring. Then her gaze fell upon two empty beds: Kallea’s and Calix’s. She should have known. Those ingrates would have hell to pay in the morning and for long afterwards.

As Adriani thundered back to her bedroom, she cast a cursory glance outside, not noticing the dazzling full moon in the heart of Pegasus or the two new stars shining brightly in the sky.

Maria Carvalho is a multi-genre author whose love of words is as fervent as her disdain for math. Her 2013 children's book Hamster in Space! was critically acclaimed and continues to be a best seller. Maria’s short stories have appeared in a variety of collections, the most recent being Under the Full Moon's Lightpublished by Owl Hollow Press. Her published non-fiction includes poetry and a feature in the popular travel guide Connecticut 169 Club. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, son, and two pampered pet fish.
Check her out:
Amazon HERE
Facebook HERE
Twitter @ImMCarvalho

Art: Pegasus by Odilon Redon, 1900
Layout: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

No comments: