“It is 1560 years before the common era,” says Demeter.
She doesn’t use English, and she doesn’t use our measures of time.
But that’s what she says, as she looks out over the sea.
“It is 1560 years before the common era, and Leto is here, on the water. And she is walking out. And she has Artemis with her, and a guide.”
This is a history of Leucippus. He did not want to be blind. He liked his sight, though it really did give him more trouble than it was worth.
“He is telling her the stories of the things he sees,” Demeter says. “And they are wrong.”
“Most people are,” says Leucippus.
“Hm?” Demeter says.
“Most people are wrong about what they see,” Leucippus says. “We all live in blind man’s country.”
Demeter smiles at him.
It’s the kind of smile that makes half of his stomach lurch with love and the other with stark, raving fear.
But enough about that.
1560 years before the common era, Hera is constructing a cerycur to trouble Leto!
She’s having to concentrate very hard and work very carefully, because the Kouretes on Mt. Solmissos are making a terrible racket.
“Darn it!” Hera says, as she fumbles a crucial connection.
Hera tosses the cerycur down hard. It skitters towards the bedroom door. Just then, Zeus slams opens the door, his face bright with enthusiasm. His form is perfect and illustrates exactly how amazing a sport tennis would be if gods played it with doors instead of rackets. The cerycur smashes into the wall and shatters, and it’s fifteen-love for Zeus!
The pieces of the cerycur trickle down the wall.
In the stillness that follows, Hera sighs.
“Hello, my beautiful darling wife!” carols Zeus. Then he looks down at the broken cerycur.
“Huh,” says Zeus.
“Was that deliberate?” Hera asks levelly.
“It was too delicate,” says Zeus, airily. “You can’t blame me if your machines can’t stand up to my divine glory.”
Hera looks at Zeus.
Zeus grins at her. Then, very carefully, he waggles his eyebrows.
“I wanted to trouble Leto,” explains Hera. “If she bears you a son, I have a lot to lose.”
“That’s not her fault,” Zeus says, “is it?”
“The actual responsibility appears to have vanished into some sort of mysterious void of blame,” says Hera. “Perhaps there was a fault-devouring titan.”
Zeus thinks a moment.
“You could send a giant snake to trouble them,” he suggests.
“You’re not helping,” says Hera.
“They’re very fierce. They bite. I like to trouble people with giant snakes.”
Hera eyes Zeus.
Zeus grins at her. Then, very carefully, he waggles his eyebrows.
“Pfuh,” says Hera, in amused disgust.
Then, because her concentration is just a little bit askew, she sends a giant snake down to trouble Leto.
At that time and at that moment, Leto is in the grove of Ortygia, where she has just now brought Chibi-Artemis forth into the world.
“That was easier than I expected,” Leto says.
She is standing on a tree branch. With the aid of a clever sling and a dexterous midwife, Leto has given birth. She is feeling quite relieved and pleased with herself, but is a little concerned because she hasn’t expressed a placenta.
Chibi-Artemis is tugging on Leto’s sleeve.
“Mommy?” she asks.
Leto leans down. Then, because Chibi-Artemis is the cutest goddess of hunting and killing things ever, Leto sweeps up her daughter and hugs her tightly.
“Oh,” says Leto. “Oh. I am so happy you are born.”
Chibi-Artemis wriggles and kicks her feet until Leto puts her down. Then she thinks about how to explain what she wants to say. Finally, she just comes out with it.
“You’re still pregnant, Mommy. I got a brother!”
“Oh, man,” says Leto, realizing instantly that Chibi-Artemis is right.
She pushes, hopefully. But it is not working out for her.
“But it’s okay,” says Chibi-Artemis. “We can go somewhere where there isn’t land or sea.”
That’s when the giant snake attacks.
More than two hundred years later, Demeter asks Leucippus, “Would you guide me to Never?”
It’s the wrong thing to say. He knows as he says it that it’s the wrong thing to say. So he stops. He holds up his hand, frantically. He waits in silence for a moment.
Then he says, “I will.”
And, in a choked voice, he asks, “But must I be blind?”
Demeter is hardly listening to him. She is looking up beyond the world at Never. She says, “If there is no hope in all the world, then the world must change. Must it not?”
Sweating, Leucippus squeezes his eyes tight shut and covers them with his forearm.
“There is no place on any map,” Demeter says. “Not to the west, not to the north, not to the east, not to the south. There is no place on any map that holds the answer to my need. So we must go to an impossible place.”
Her words sit in the air. They are still and heavy, like the lump in Leucippus’ stomach.
It is like ice to him. It is a line of madness cut across the world of his mind. The system of the world has finite scope and its boundaries have never closed.
He stands at the crossroads. He tries to see without opening his eyes. He flails for bearings and points in a random direction with his free remaining arm.
“South, then,” he says. “Towards Crete.”
Her voice is rich and deep and as his panic recedes Leucippus can see her even though his eyes are closed.
The presence of Demeter is cutting through the darkness.
He has a bone-deep awareness of her. She is powerful. She is glorious. The madness seethes in her like lightning. The sorrow twists and turns in her mind like a torn black sail in the winter wind. She is holding it all in, but he can see it; that, and the bounty of her.
And something more beautiful besides.
“There is something beautiful,” he says.
Demeter’s teeth are white in the darkness.
“Something crazy mad beautiful,” he says. “Something—”
He can see it. He can hear it, in the surf, in the tide.
“That was my daughter,” says Demeter.
“And ten . . .”
“Ten little meat soldiers,” he says. “Dactyls? Phalluses? Fiends?”
“Toes,” says Demeter.
Her voice is bland.
A blush spreads all the way up Leucippus’ body and almost makes him open his eyes.
“She had ten perfect toes,” says Leucippus.
He is walking now. He is moving out over the waves. But even with his eyes shut he can see too well.
He can see the waves under his feet, for she has led him out over the water.
He can see the salt in them and the terrible power to drown that is the sea’s.
He can see the seagulls as they fly above. With each new cry he can see them again.
And he can see clutched in Demeter’s heart the memory of the wonderful thing, the crazy mad beautiful thing that was her daughter to her.
And Leucippus is crying.
He is crying because in the face of this vision he is surrendering his need for sight.
And more than two hundred years before, Artemis—already older, already better, already fading into her perfection—leads Leto out over the waves, with a blind Kourete before them.
And she says, “Mother, what is that?”
Leto is holding something out to her.
It is wooden and round, and it has a handle. It shimmers, just a bit, from the polishing of the wood. It rattles in Leto’s hand.
“It’s a present,” says Leto. “For shooting the giant snake.”
“Pfuh,” says Artemis, dismissively. “Giant snakes.”
There have only been two occasions in the long history of the world when a giant snake has functioned as an antagonist worthy of the name.
This was not one of them.
“And,” says Leto, “for being you.”
So Artemis looks.
And she is already almost too old to see the wonder of it; but still, there is a moment when the sheen of the wood is a marvel and its noise is the most inspiring thing she has ever heard.
And the expression on her face as she hears it is insanely, impossibly incredibly beautiful.
It gives Leto the strength to go beyond the borders of the world.