It is 1560 years before the common era.
“This is my curse,” Hera says to Leto. “You shall not bear your child on the mainland, or on any island, or on the sea.”
Leto is pregnant and her feet are sore. She thinks about this for a moment.
“That’s pretty much going to suck for me,” Leto concludes.
Which, as things turn out, it does.
It is 1317 years before the common era. There is a river that surrounds the world. It separates the whole good land from that which is not. There is a cupping fire that surmounts the world, a burning fulminating ether. Outside these things there are the sun, the moon, the stars.
And beyond them there is Never.
There is no path to Never. The maps that have survived from then that show the way have peculiar lacunae upon them. No matter how you chart the course, the landmarks do not line up, the data is inconsistent, you are led inevitably into the cartographer’s error and the point without continuance. There are some who laugh at the folly of the mapmakers of those days, and some who speak of conspiracy and secrets, and some who deny that there was ever a Never at all.
But it is there, burning in the sky, three thousand years ago and more, with its peaks and minarets and bats.
It is thinking of Never that Demeter falls from stormy skies to Delos, that island of stability at the chaos’ edge.
Leucippus is laying there on the sand of Delos’ beach. He’s coughing up water. He’s just tried to drown himself.
“There is no hope,” says Demeter.
She is wearing black. The wind makes angry sounds as it passes her, like a flapping tarp or a dragon’s wings.
“Granted,” says Leucippus. He does not recognize her.
Demeter blinks. Her eyes focus on him. “Pardon?”
“There is no hope,” Leucippus says. “Everything is madness. Here is how I know. This is Delos. It is a sacred island. It is the island where sweet Leto bore Apollo. Yet she cannot have borne him on an island. It is against the law that orders each and every thing. Thus I cannot trust Ananke; thus I cannot trust anything; thus I cannot even trust in the existence of the world.”
“It isn’t technically an island,” Demeter says. “It’s too small.”
Leucippus looks up. He stares at her steadily.
After a moment, Demeter laughs.
“Point taken,” she says.
“I can’t help but see how things really are,” says Leucippus. “It’s a curse from Apollo. Because I challenged him on matters of prophecy.”
“That was a mistake,” Demeter says.
“Yes,” agrees Leucippus fervently. “Yes, it was.”
Demeter hefts Leucippus up from the beach. She puts him down on his feet. She breathes and the air around him is full of the scent of corn.
“Come,” she says, and she walks out on the water.
“I didn’t know why it was a punishment at first,” says Leucippus. He walks out after her, onto the waves. “It didn’t make me very popular, of course. I mean, the girls were all bashfully upset at my truthful evaluation. Also, the men. And I really, really have to avoid temples. But I didn’t mind so much. Unpopularity is the curse of an honest man. No, the problem I had was with the world. With everything that just doesn’t make sense.”
“You don’t like contradictions?”
Just processing that question makes Leucippus hyperventilate.
“Uh,” he says, staggering.
“Here is one for you,” Demeter says. “Observe. My daughter, my bright fair daughter, she has been taken. There is no hope in all the world. Yet I am calm.”
“You aren’t calm,” says Leucippus. “You are indulging in a patch of detached madness.”
“Pshaw,” summarizes Demeter, waving the matter away.
“Am I going to die?” Leucippus says. “Because, honestly, I’d rather die than spend any more time contemplating Delos. So I won’t mind. But I’d hoped, in a distant corner of my mind, that instead of drowning I’d get sucked down into a whirlpool and cast up on some distant island populated by beautiful maidens, deep-bosomed like yourself. So far, what with your mad despair and such, the portents do not seem good.”
“There is no hope,” Demeter says, somewhat ambiguously.
Demeter looks upwards.
“Listen,” Demeter says. “In all the span of the world, there is no hope for me. I have for some years known that this would happen; that the Son of Cronos would have her taken from me. And what is done, in this matter, cannot be undone. There is no hope for me. So neither is there hope for you. That is Ananke. That is Necessity.”
“Alas,” says Leucippus.
“Still,” says Demeter, “I will be gracious, and say this much: when Leto found it, Delos was no island.”
“Was it a giant fish?” says Leucippus. He is practically sagging with relief. There is a beautiful peace spreading across his face. But it is tentative. It is a peace that’s scared to stay. “Because I thought there might be an exception regarding giant fishes. But the island’s shape was wrong.”
“It was a minaret of Never.”