Gods & Monsters
A Fang Fatales Vignette by Bernice Ravji
1066, Somewhere in Yorkshire
He was honestly the very last person she expected to see in that place, at that time.
Cassandra was sitting in a far corner of the dimly-lit room. Taverns in those days were a murky affair. The air smelled of sweat and spilled ale and the venison stew that was bubbling in an iron cauldron over an open fire on the far side of the room. A haze of smoke from the fire hung at about head height over the whole scene, shifting in the flickering candlelight. The clamour of conversation filled the space as a hodge podge mix of peasant farmers, soldiers, and merchants all laughed and hollered at each other from the many large and small tables that had been crammed into the room. Weaving amongst them all were a handful of harassed-looking serving women delivering tankards of the warm, dark beer the British were so fond of. She’d never developed a taste for it herself and was instead nursing a bottle of sweet mead. Cassandra watched one server deftly skirt a groping hand and deliver four slopping pints to a table of merchants who were deep in conversation.
King Harold had just defeated the Vikings at Stamford Bridge the week before and there was a buzz of energy in the room that spoke of change and fortune and destiny. Cassandra sighed, in two weeks’ time Harold was going to be defeated at Hastings by the Normans but time and harsh experience had taught her there was no point in trying to tell these people that. They wouldn’t believe her, they never did. The prophecy burned in her mind like a white hot brand but she pushed it aside. Let them enjoy their moment.
She took a sip from the goblet of mead on the table in front of her and her eyes tracked the pretty young serving woman weaving through the crowded tables. She was hungry.
Suddenly a voice spoke from beside her. Her head snapped around in surprise, she had let her cravings get the better of her and hadn’t noticed the man approach. People so rarely did – another quality of her ’gift’.
“Daughter of Priam, may I join you?”
The lilting cadence of the mother tongue she hadn’t heard spoken in many hundreds of years washed over her as she took in the man, if you could call him that, standing before her. He looked…diminished. His golden curls no longer had the radiance she remembered and his once boyish face looked drawn and tired. Warily she indicated the stool opposite her. He was going to sit regardless, his kind didn’t take well to rejection. She’d told him no before, many many years ago, and paid a high price.
He settled himself, his somewhat worn woollen cloak folded about him. Taking in the mead, he twisted to signal for another goblet. Cassandra felt her eyebrow raise, clearly he was as presumptuous as ever. When you’ve spent eternity holding the lives of mortals in the palm of your hand, table manners weren’t much of a priority. A server placed a metal goblet on the table and Cassandra watched the man fill it, drain it, then fill it again. His pale eyes took her in and he smiled.
“You’re looking well, Cassandra. Particularly for someone who, last I heard, was stabbed to death in a bathtub.”
She smiled tightly. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Phoebus.”
“So what is it? Spell? Potion? Philosopher’s Stone?”
“Ah, a creature of the night then. It suits you.”
“And what brings you to this place?”
He shrugged. “Battle. Death. But they don’t remember me. These times are hard on an old god.”
“You’re not totally forgotten. There are still paintings, stories…”
“Just stories though. I’m… we’re lost to history now.” He took another swig of mead. “Are you still having the, you know, the prophecies?”
She let out an involuntary bark of laughter and nodded. “Of course I am. And before you ask, no, no one ever believes me. Nothing has changed except I no longer care for the fates of humans.”
He grimaced. “Nasty business at Troy. I heard what happened with Ajax. Ugly thing to do. He got what he deserved though, Athena saw to that.”
The smell of blood and smoke. Women weeping and screaming. Her mother, her sisters. Her own desperate pleas to the goddess for pity, for protection. Rough hands dragging her across the temple floor. Cold stone beneath her bare skin.
She held him in a level gaze. “What do you want of me, Apollo?”
His eyes moved over the room, a slight frown creasing his brow. “Nothing I suppose. Company? A brief taste of better times? Something…I don’t know. I haven’t seen anyone from the old days in so long. I wanted to… remember.”
She drained her own cup and placed it back on the table somewhat harder than intended. “Well I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for. Goodbye, Apollo.”
She rose from her seat but before she could move away his hand shot out and grasped her wrist. She felt herself go rigid, unsure what to expect next but when she looked into his face he stared back pleadingly. He looked small, weak.
“Please, stay. I can make it go. I can undo what I did to you.”
Carefully Cassandra eased herself back down on her chair. “No you can’t. You can’t take back your ‘gifts’. I, more than most, know the rules.”
He gave a weak smile. “I may be less than I was but the rules have eroded too. There’s more…flexibility than there used to be. It’ll be all of it though. No more visions, no more prophecies. No more madness.”
She stared at him. This shadow of the god she had known. This sad, pathetic creature. She thought of all the misery he had brought upon her. The years of wanting to claw the visions from behind her eyes. The torment of knowing the fate of her family and her beloved city yet being powerless to save any of it. The centuries learning to resist the urge to scream warnings at people, to plead with strangers. Learning not to get too close to others, not to love. Was this just a trap? Another attempt to control her? In her experience no gift from a god ever came without a price, usually a high price.
“Why? What’s in it for you?”
He looked away from her. “The years have not been easy for me. I have regrets, Cassandra. Opportunities to make amends are rare. I’d like to take this one, if you’ll let me?”
Slowly she nodded. “Do it then.”
There was no fanfare. No rumble of thunder or flash of lightning. None of the humans around them noticed anything at all. But for Cassandra it was like a crushing weight was suddenly lifted away. She had a sudden moment of panic when she realised she no longer knew the future. It was like a sudden, total loss of memory but for things that hadn’t happened yet. Any feelings of disorientation were washed away in an overwhelming feeling of relief. She looked around the tavern, eyes wide with wonder. Unconsciously, a grin spread across her face. When she returned her gaze to the god sitting opposite he was also smiling and his face looked more like she remembered it. Youthful, beautiful and dangerous.
Her smile disappeared.
She rose again from the table. “Goodbye Apollo, I doubt we’ll meet again.”
Across the bar the pretty young barmaid was preparing to leave into the night. As she slipped out the door after her Cassandra cast one last glance back at the table in the corner but he wasn’t there. Only their two goblets and an empty bottle were evidence their meeting ever took place at all.
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