My second short story, written as part of a flash fiction challenge. For more details, see the original post.
The Short Story
Artemis stepped outside and shut the door to her cabin, making sure she heard the latch drop into place. She didn’t know why her brother insisted she have a lock on her door. She’d done fine for millenia without locks, especially when the animals in the forest kept watch. Leave it to Apollo to go all big brother on her and install the blasted thing anyway, even though she’d been the twin born first.
She whistled softly, smiling when she heard the sounds of her dogs and Aeolus thrust his head into her hand. She scratched the brown spotted hound’s ears, then crouched down to greet the others: Delos and Damian with their black-and-white coats, and her three lovelies Hector, Helios and Theron, whose reddish coats shone in the moonlight. Since the day she’d received them from Pan, she’d never been without them.
“Well, my hounds, shall we go?”
All six responded with short barks, so she sent them down the path ahead of her. It wasn’t long before one returned to her side, agitated.
“What is it, my boy?”
Theron whimpered at her, then went still as did the rest of the forest around her. In seconds, her five remaining hounds appeared beside her, their attention trained somewhere over the next rise.
She reached into her pack and pulled out her favorite compound bow, thumbing the switch that triggered its transformation to full size. She drew an arrow from the quiver on her back, settling it into place as she slowly climbed She whispered to her dogs, “Quickly but quietly,” and they slipped away to take up their usual hunting positions around her. It took her a few strides to crest the top of the small hill, and a moment later she sheathed her arrow and collapsed and stowed her bow as she ran down to the edge of the water where the man lay half submerged.
Chunks of wreckage surrounded the survivor, who was lying on a large section of deck planking. She could see in the distance the remains of his ship, with its broken mast spearing out of the waves crookedly and the rear section of the stern barely visible above the choppy waters. A wooden life ring’s cord had twisted itself around his ankle, and floated behind him. A satchel was strapped across his chest and caught beneath him, and she would bet that he’d broken everything within it.
Kneeling at his side, she realized how large he was. Upright, he had to be at least seven feet tall, and through his tattered clothing she saw nothing but tanned muscle. She brushed his thick dark hair away from his face, her hand coming away bloody from a nasty gash just beneath his hairline. Wasting no time, she tore a strip of linen off her tunic and began bandaging his wound even as she reached out for her friend’s mind.
Athena, are you there?
Artemis! Where on Earth are you? Even through their telepathy, Artemis could hear the war goddess’ concern. We expected you an hour ago. I was about to send Callisto to look for you.
Do you still have that wagon that you haul weapons around in?
Bring it and the girls with you when you come. I’ll explain when you get here. I need your help as fast as you can manage. I’m sending Aeolus to you. He’ll lead you back along the coast about two miles west of your house. It looks like that storm we had last night did a little more than scare your owls and my deer. It took down a big passenger ship, and I don’t think I can move on my own the very large, very muscular man lying at my feet with a head wound that’s bleeding a little more profusely than I’d like. He may be its only survivor.
We’ll be there soon, came back Athena’s crisp response.
She knew she could count on the goddess of war to be calm in a crisis. Giving Aeolus the command to go to Athena, she motioned for the rest of her hounds to stand down. They settled into the sand an arm’s length away to her left, heads resting on paws but keeping both of them within view. A pained groan snapped her attention back to the man before her. Placing a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to keep him from moving, the warmth of his skin had her wondering.
“Try not to move,” she suggested softly. “I don’t know what injuries you might have gotten from being tossed about in the storm, and we don’t want to make them worse.”
He merely grunted at her. Her hand slipped from his shoulder as he shifted, uncurling his fingers from their grip on the wood, sliding both of his hands back until they were palms down and even with his massive shoulders. He managed to push himself off the planks, every muscle in his arms and shoulders quivering with the effort. As she watched him get his feet underneath him so that he could move himself off his life raft and onto the beach, she couldn’t help but admire his strength. She considered contacting Athena and telling her they weren’t needed, but by the awkward way he collapsed into a half-sitting, half-leaning position, she decided to have her check him over for injuries.
He raked his hair back and off his forehead, out of his eyes, he winced when he aggravated his head wound. Fingering the bandage, he glanced over at her. “Hello, Artemis.”
His knowing her name didn’t surprise her. It did, however, confirm her earlier hunch that he might be a demigod. She would eventually figure out which one of his parents was of the Olympian pantheon, as she was.
“Hello to you.”
He chuckled as he freed himself from the life ring’s rope. “I forget we’ve never officially been introduced as I’ve wanted to meet you for years. You know my father, Poseidon.”
Her memories clicked into place. She now placed where she’d seen eyes that same color, and that charming smile. “Ah, yes. You would be Orion.”
When he shifted as if to stand, she motioned for him to stay put. “You need to rest; my friends will be here shortly with a wagon and we’ll get you patched up.”
“I’m not going to argue with you. My left side aches something terrible.” He drew the strap of his bag over his head and grimaced when he heard the tinkling of shattered pottery. “Oh, Mother’s not going to be happy about this.” He loosened the buckle and carefully slipped a hand inside, drawing it back out again. In his palm lay large bits of white painted ceramic, including one that stared back at her with oddly sad eyes. “She has this quirky collection of teapots that Hecate throws and decorates for her. Never seen one with bats on it before, let alone with such unhappy expressions. Think she’ll forgive me if I tell her it broke when I landed on it trying to survive a near-hurricane?”
Artemis smiled. “Perhaps. I’ve found mothers are often much more forgiving toward their only sons. My brother is a perfect example.”
Further conversation was halted momentarily by the arrival of Aeolus, who skidded to a stop at Artemis’ side, his entire body vibrating in his happiness to be reunited with his mistress. She thanked him with a hug, a quick body rub and a kiss, and his enthusiastic bark caused Orion to laugh.
“Oh, I really shouldn’t have laughed. I think Mother’s teapot cracked a couple of ribs.”
“We’ll soon find out. Here come my friends.” She pointed up the beach. Athena was up in the driver’s seat, with Artemis’ two companions holding on for dear life in the bed of the wagon. Apparently, the goddess of war drove at breakneck speed no matter the cargo she carried. The passengers hopped out before the goddess had reigned in the horses to a complete stop, and stumbled a little in the sand. Jogging the few extra feet to where she sat, Callisto stood as if on guard and glared at Orion, while Atalanta merely nodded to him in greeting.
“Who have we here?’ greeted Athena as she joined the group, “and what did you do to make the god of the sea so mad that he had it make a meal out of your ship and spit you back out again like a bad clam?”
Orion shrugged. “I don’t think it was about me personally. Right before we capsized I thought I heard him bellow something, Odysseus perhaps? In any case, I doubt it would have mattered overmuch had he known I was on board. Father’s not exactly lacking for offspring, so losing one son of many to the depths wouldn’t matter to anyone but my mother.” He then met Athena’s gaze. “Considering your history with Poseidon, I would understand if you’d rather not get involved.”
“Oh, our relationship’s not that bad anymore,” the war goddess argued, then eyed him directly. “But if you ever make me mad, I’ll do worse than drown you at sea.” Athena wiggled her fingers at him, and the many legends of those who had crossed her flashed through his mind. He held up a hand in reassurance, and the goddess grinned.
The four of them managed to get him upright and over to the bed of the wagon, where Athena performed a cursory field inspection. The cut on his head was no longer bleeding, and when she gently probed the huge bruise covering the majority of the left side of Orion’s torso, she reported that he did indeed have a couple of cracked ribs but they seemed to be healing.
“I think you inherited some of your father’s affinity for water,” Athena said as she stepped back, securing her first aid kit back in its space in the wagon. “I believe in another couple of hours, you’ll be fully healed.”
He carefully slid off the back of the wagon, and other than a hand pressed to his side, he showed no signs of being in pain. “I guess sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be a demigod. Thank you for your assistance, ladies, but I should be on my way. Artemis’ hounds have reminded me I have one of my own waiting for me at home.” He walked a few steps, then stopped to rummage through his satchel. Calling out her name, he pitched a small coin in Artemis’ direction.
Catching it in mid-air, she inspected the object. It was filthy despite Orion’s impromptu swim, so she knelt at the water’s edge and cleaned it off. At first she thought he’d tossed her a drachma, one of the ancient coins they’d used for currency. What he’d in fact given her was a brass token belonging to an amusement park she’d heard of years ago that claimed to include a decent archery range. He’d tossed it to her knowing she’d be unable to resist the invitation, and she smiled.
“Come on, Artemis!” Callisto ran and grabbed her free hand. “You have to see the dessert Athena got for us. It’s one of those big yummy vanilla sheet cakes, and she had them write ‘Girls Night’ on it in bright blue letters, and in Greek no less!”
Whistling for her dogs, Artemis slipped Orion’s token into her pocket and let her be pulled along as she listened to her companion chatter on. Glancing back toward the forest as she climbed into the wagon, she was oddly pleased to discover he stood waiting at the edge of the trees. Curious, she reached out with her mind and discovered he’d inherited one additional ability from his father as she connected with him telepathically.
Well? he asked, his deep voice oddly intimate as it resonated in her mind.
You’re on, she answered, looking forward to the challenge.
~ The End ~
© 2014 Nicole A Bossard