In the early afternoon, Echo felt the cool grass under her bare feet, and her white diaphanous dress barely hid her charms for modesty.
She gazed about in amazement, looking for Time, who’d manifested himself to her in the form of a sculptor, and barely pushed her through time before Death’s gory scythe claimed their lives.
Can time be killed?
She dismissed the thought; it was enough that she was free from the rocks that imprisoned her in her grief all those centuries ago.
The gods had long ago abandoned the region, and her, and the rains had stopped, leaving the land to change to desert, and her alone inside her stony dungeon; she no longer had the luxury of even repeating the words of someone else, and her loneliness crushed her spirit as she slept, and woke to silence, and slept again, in a cycle of living death.
And then the netherworld travelers happened to stop in front of her.
And now she was here.
Breathing in the fresh clean scent of the forest, even in its pungency, made her shiver with pleasure at life once more. She wanted to kiss Time again; his scent had stirred her, but he’d hidden himself.
Maybe there will be…time…for that later. Her mischievous thought brought a smile to her lips when she heard someone rushing through the woods in her direction.
Before she could hide, the figure emerged; it was her King, flushed, panting, and looking over his shoulder as if a wild boar pursued him.
She took the knee before him, and he paused a moment in front of her.
She stood. “You do me honor, lord.”
“I would, had I time.” He smiled at her with lust, but time was of the essence, and he’d sated himself elsewhere.
“How may I serve you?”
“Juno pursues me for my dalliances with some of your sisters. I would that you use your skills of conversation to detain her while I escape until she calms down.”
“I am at your service, Majesty.”
“There’s a good nymph.” His hand cupped her cheek in a mix of paternal affection and a lion testing the softness of the skin of its next kill.
There was a rustling behind them, and Echo wanted to laugh as Jupiter bolted like a frightened deer into the woods to escape Juno’s wrath.
The scent of lilac wafted in the air, and Echo walked toward the blooming bush, and gathered some in her hands, letting the scent wash over her, as Juno came from the same direction as Jupiter, her eyes sparking with fury, her nails digging into her palms.
She spied the nymph by the lilac, and rushed over to her.
“Did Jupiter pass through here? Tell me, and don’t you dare lie!”
“To lie to my Queen is to die. I only just arrived, smelling the lilac in the air, and wished to gather some for my bath. Would my Queen like some for her own?”
“No. Thank you. Did you see Jupiter?”
“I did not, my queen. I would run to hide, for I am but in this faerie cloth, and the King is potent in his lust…”
Juno’s eyes flashed.
“…so my sisters say, my queen. He has not taken me to bed, nor would I go, for we are friends, you and I, are we not?”
Her voice softened.
“I have sat at your feet, and eaten from your hand. I live at your pleasure, and die at your command, and my queen has been most gracious not to seek my death. I would not risk such by bedding your lord and husband, though he grow angry with me, and threaten my life.
“So again, I would not lie to you; I did not see my king pass this way.”
Some of Juno’s steam began to dissipate as her gaze scanned helplessly around the woods; it seemed he’d eluded her once again, and her eyes began to shine with welling tears.
“Come, my friend,” Echo smiled, and held out her hand, “come smell the lilacs in full bloom. I will lace some through your hair, along with flowers of white and gold. We will look for them together, and when I am done, my King will be enchanted by you once more, and bring you his heart, cloven in repentance, for you and you alone.”
Juno sighed. “Oh, Echo. Dear, sweet, kind Echo, you are ever my solace, ever my friend.”
“I’ve no other desire, my Queen.”
Echo surreptitiously cast about for Time once more, but he was not present.
They spent the afternoon together, and Echo chattered away; her knowledge of the woods and all therein was extensive, her curiosity about matters royal always favored Juno’s views, and as the sun wheeled to the chariot house, they gathered the lilac, the yellow posy, blue periwinkle and daisy, and Echo wreathed them round, and crowned Juno, saying she was now a nymph, and had to stay in the forest where Echo could teach her all there was to know.
Juno laughed, and Echo laughed with her, not like her.
And so the afternoon went, until they came to a clearing, and sleeping by the base of a tree, was Jupiter.
Both women stopped in their tracks, and gazed upon the sleeping man, clothed only in a loincloth, his royal vestments left wherever the pool was that he’d indulged himself.
Juno turned to Echo, who in trying not to reveal anything, revealed her guilt.
Slowly, Juno took off the crown of flowers, and her arm flashed, and she caught the nymph across the cheek, knocking her to the ground in a spray of blood and blossoms, her dress now immodestly gathered about her as she scuttled along the ground as Juno bore down on her.
Then Juno stopped, remembering she was queen, and shuddered with unspent energy as she pointed at the nymph, her extended hand alight with power…
Echo closed her eyes, Time forgotten, reliving the horror of the day of Juno’s curse, unable to scream, or plead, or move, she lay like a newborn babe before a ravening wolf, and suddenly Juno shimmered, and stood still, immobile as Gorgons’ men, yet not of stone.
Time stepped from the woods, and at first Echo was uncomprehending; then she began to realize what had taken place, and slowly, she got to her feet, and walked over to him.
He’d aged more, his rounded frame now thinning, his beard, neat and trimmed, salt and pepper, was now ragged, stained and unkempt.
His eyes, sharp and keen when he sculpted (for she’d looked deep into them as he cut her out), were now almost rheumy to the point where she wondered if he was blind.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
“This is my gift to you,” his voice rasped in her ears.
“You’re giving me back my voice?” Her eyes welled up in wonder.
“It is better to die than to never speak your own words,” said Time.
Echo was overwhelmed.
“What will happen to them?” her gaze took in Juno and Jupiter.
“She will strike him with the bolt that’s meant for you, and he will lose his ability to charm your sisters to his bed.”
Echo ran to him, embraced him, ironically now speechless with gratitude.
She looked into his eyes, and saw the light go out; he was truly blind now.
Death had his shroud; he didn’t bother to tell her he would not make it back to save himself.
He’d answered her question now: Time could be killed or saved, redeemed or spent.
She found that she had a choice to make, and with her heart quailing inside her, she made it.
© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
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