Poppy-Laden

Diotima Sophia

[Originally published in Refuge: Tales of Myths and Magicks. Reprinted with permission of the author.]

“Look, this can’t go on!”

The faces in the marble room were grave, not to mention perplexed, and now vexed.

“Yes, thank you for that, I think we’d realised something needed to be done – it’s why we’re here, after all”. The speaker’s unspoken coda when we all have much better things to be doing rang as loudly as her spoken words.

And it was true – they did need to either do something or have something done or … something. The problem was deciding what. Or rather, even coming up with suggestions to decide among – that would be a start.

The eldest of them, nominally in charge, was adding nothing to the debate; rather, he was sitting, chin on hand, enthroned, watching one speaker after another. The meeting was beginning to take on the trappings of a family farce.

“Look, it’s simple enough”. The original speaker took up his theme again. “We just get close enough, tie him up or something – and deal with him”.

Cold eyes focused on him from around the room, and the one sitting and observing let out a derisive laugh.

“’Just get close enough to tie him up.’ How d’you plan to do that, then?”

“It can’t be that hard, surely – I mean, look at the power around this table! We can deal with him easily enough. He’s hardly one of us, one of the Olympians, after all”.

That statement sent a silence around the room. In some ways it was true enough, but ….

“No”, said the eldest, “he’s not ‘one of us’ if I understand what you mean. He doesn’t spent a lot of time here – he prefers his own places. He’s not a great fan of this kind of thing.” The wave of a lordly hand took in not only the superbly appointed hall, but the company assembled within it. “And d’you know why?” The quiet tone should have been a warning, but it went unheeded.

“Well, it’s obvious, really”. The younger warmed to his entirely ill-conceived task. “He’ uncouth – a mountebank. He doesn’t come here because he doesn’t fit in. I say again, we can easily deal with this ….”

The speaker trailed off as he found he was lacking the support he’d expected.

“Not quite. He fits in – but he doesn’t want to. More, he doesn’t feel the need to. He’s been welcome here since yon Hermes brought him as a babe in arms.”

The elder didn’t seem inclined to go on, but there seemed more to say.

“I’ll tell you the rest, as Zeus doesn’t seem to want to”. The voice came from the back of the crowd – they made way for the limping figure of the smith, who settled himself in a chair at their centre.

“He’s old. Older than most. Oh, yes, I was here when the babe was first shown – but time doesn’t work that way for us, as well you know. You’ll never see my age and I’ve never been yours – we are what we are and we don’t really change”.

The smith always commanded attention – even the young Adonis thought better than to interrupt him. (And if the truth were known, he’d never considered the possibility of growing old – the thought had sunk into his soul like hot lead).

“Pan’s … always been there, in one way or another. As long as there’s been life in the hills, as long as the goats have rutted in the briars – he’s been there. And he’s been a good friend to many of us here”. At this, he shot a look to Zeus – who flexed his arms, remembering past service.

“He has. And we would return the favour. But how?”

The smith shook his head. “Give me a problem in metal, or a chasm to bridge, and I can help you. Pan running wild, however, is beyond my ken”. The smith had given words to what they had all been avoiding.

Pan was running wild – the countryside of Arcadia echoed to his cries. Pan was seen running, distracted, through the hills he normally loved. Shepherds had brought their flocks down to the plain months earlier than usual – they were afraid of coming to the notice of the demented god. And Arcadia … was withering. It seemed that the lifeforce that sustained it was being drawn out, and fed into the frenzy of its master.

“I suppose,” Zeus began, “no one knows why this is happening?” His gaze fell particularly on one of the other gods.

“No, I don’t,” answered Dionysus. “I might drive the odd queen to distraction, but I’d not do this to him!” His defiance had more than a little pain woven through it – he was close to the goat-foot god, and at a loss for how to help him. “When did this start?”

“Yes, yesterday”. The answer came quietly and eventually – timid, and somewhat overawed. The company looked at the small figure before them, recognising her as one of the Nymphs (“Never could keep them all straight” muttered someone in the background).

With a sharp look toward the comment, Hera did her best to reassure the girl. “Go on”.

“He … he lay down about noon. He always does – everyone knows that. We’d … well, we’d ….” Her blush told its own story, and Hera nodded – they knew him well enough, after all.

“So he should have slept well. But soon after he lay down, he began … moving. Twitching. Then, he was up, and running! I tried to follow, but I couldn’t keep up, and he wouldn’t listen ….” She collapsed, sobbing, in Hera’s arms.

The gods considered.

“He sent himself into Panic?”

“Or someone else did,” said the smith, grimly.

“Either way …,” said Zeus. “Iris!”

***

The rainbow-hued goddess descended – again – to the realm of Hypnos. She’d come once before at Hera’s command, but now, her objective was different. It wasn’t the lord of sleep she sought, but …

“Morpheus”.

She said the name softly, as though loathe to disturb the somulence of the darkened chamber. The poppy-strewn floor – the ebony bed – all was as described, including the figure reclining on the bed, robed in midnight blue.

“Lady? You dazzle, here in these dark halls”. Morpheus’ voice was smooth, even, careful – the voice of a perfect actor, setting the audience at ease.

“Morpheus”, Iris repeated, making some attempt to gather her cloak more closely about her and so cause less disturbance. “We have need of you”.

He responded, “We? Have I not learned to be wary of such a summons? Hera’s needs and mine do not coincide”. He made to turn away. Iris reached out a hand – and the chamber was again alight with dazzling colour.

“I come from Hera, yes – but from Zeus, and Dionysus, and Hermes, and the Smith – we all ask your help”.

“What can the busy halls of Olympus have need of from the realm of Hypnos. My father and brothers are not active men”.

Iris held him with her eyes, “And it is for this we seek you out. Morpheus, you above all are needed. It’s Pan”.

“Pan?!” The blue-clad god turned back to her – then a far away look came to his eyes (as much as she could tell in the dim and changing light). He held up a hand to stave off her speaking, as he seemed to gaze into the distance beyond the chamber wall.

“Yes … I see. Pan”. There was sadness in Morpheus’ voice. “What would you have me do?”

Iris looked gently at him and said, “What you can”.

***

Days later, Iris returned yet again to the darkened hall, bearing godly gifts – Arcadia had gone silent, the herds were back on the hills, and the goat foot god slept the day out, undisturbed. Peace had returned, and the inhabitants of Olympus were grateful.

But the gifts were never delivered –f or she could see, winking in the dim light on the threshold of the hall of dreams, a greater gift had already been given. No one ever questioned what passed between Morpheus and Pan, but the simple reed pipes held an honoured place among the poppies from that time on.

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