Well, why not. What the hell...
In a response to Holly's beautifully heartfelt post about finding it hard to write this week, I shared an experience I had yesterday when I hit a wall in my own writing. I gave up trying to wrangle words that just weren't having any of it and starting sorting out some old box files in the office. One of them contained probably twenty years-worth of random, unsorted photos. And some of them were pictures of a holiday I went on fifteen or so years ago with my best friends to Corfu (in the ancient days when such a thing was possible).
As I thought back to those two weeks of long, lazy cicada-serenaded days and nights I remembered the genius locii of the place , and I remembered a fancy that I had, all those years ago, when we were exploring in the hills above the villa where we stayed. And suddenly I had a ... thing... 'Story' is probably giving it too much credit ... a vignette. Based on that fifteen year old fancy, I wrote it down. And here it is, barely edited. I write fantasy, mostly, and I guess that's what this is.
It'll probably never be published. It'll probably never even be seen by more than a few people. Most of them on here I suspect!
Feel free to critique or hurl tomatoes or brickbats. Or maybe even olive branches or laurel wreaths if you're feeling particularly kind. 😀
In the last days of the gods, and the second month of their affair, Panope took Antisthenes far up into the olive groves that shade the rolling hills above Corcyra. There, on a wooded slope that looked across the city to the sea, quite hidden, was an old shrine to the goddess Tyche, roofless and walled with ancient stone.
Panope pushed the door ajar and nodded, seeming satisfied with what she saw.
‘Come in,’ she said, and beckoned to him from a patch of dappled sunlight. ‘Come.’
Once within the walls, they sat on marble benches and ate their lunch of bread and cheese and fruit, and drank sweet wine. The sun was warm as oil against their skin.
‘I used to come here all the time,’ Panope said. ‘To write my songs and poems, play my pipes, and be alone but for my thoughts. Always alone.’ She looked around as if it was a place that she had never seen before. ‘I've never been here with another.’
Her eyes were sad again, her presence fugitive and insubstantial, Antisthenes thought, as if the sunlight gave her being and without it she would fade. His heart ached at the prospect.
‘Until now,’ she said, and lifted up the leather satchel that she'd carried with her, offering it to him.
‘Open it,’ she said.
Antisthenes undid the straps. Inside he found a set of reed pipes, very old and dark and worn with playing, some sweetmeats, perfumed oils and a long-toothed wooden comb. And nestled next to them were sealed ink pots, reed pens and rolls of vellum. On some such rolls the ink was old and faded. On a few the ink was fresh and dark.
‘What are these?’ Antisthenes asked softly, as he carefully laid them out along the bench next to Panope.
‘My poems. And my songs,’ Panope said. ‘Fragments of my heart.’
She lifted up one of the vellum rolls, the writing on it black and new, and offered it.
Antisthenes unrolled it, read it carefully, curiosity transforming into wonder then a strange amalgamation of heartbreak and joy. At the end his eyes were wet enough to blur the words until he blinked them sharp again.
‘You wrote this?’ he murmured.
‘Yes,’ Panope said, and offered up another.
Antisthenes read the second sheet. A tear welled at the corner of his eye. He shook his head.
‘You bring to me a gift,’ he said finally. ‘A thing of precious beauty. Your soul in ink.’
Panope’s eyes glowed bronze and amber, flecked with golden iridescence, pupils wide and dark despite the sunlight.
‘My soul?’ she said, almost a question. Then, like an epiphany, ‘My soul.’
Antisthenes read the sheets again, more slowly, as if each word were a revelation.
‘These are written recently,' he said. 'The ink is fresh. You wrote these since our meeting?’
‘I had not written for a year or longer. I'd stopped coming to this place. I had no reason to, until that day two months ago you met me in the woods. I was alone, the others faded all and gone. Until you came to me... and out of nowhere, in these final days, all my love songs are of you.’
Sunlight touched the spiral ridges of her horns with gold and chased away the sadness in her eyes. She seemed less insubstantial now. She smiled and stepped to him on delicate cloven hooves, her every move a dance, her arms outstretched. Their fingers met and gently intertwined.
Antisthenes drew Panope into a close embrace and gently brushed her lips with his. Her mouth still had the aftertaste of wine and peach-flesh. Her ears flicked with delight as she returned his kiss. She pressed herself against him, solid, real, as tenderness became an urgent need.
‘I will never let you go,’ he whispered as they lowered themselves down into the scented grass, arms wrapped around each other, skin to skin, the fur of her flanks soft against his thighs. ‘You are my treasure and my goddess. You have bound me to your beauty and your grace until whatever end may come. And even then, I will be with you, yours for all eternity.’
‘And I am yours until my fading,’ Panope breathed softly. ‘And beyond if possible. The ocean to your shore. Fuel to your flame. The blood within your heart. I love you, human man.’
That evening in the olive groves above Corcyra, pan-pipes softly played. All else was silence, sunlight, and enchantment, in the last days of the gods.