[Note: originally published in Refuge: Tales of Myths and Magicks. Reprinted with permission of the author.]
“You what?!” said the older of the two, incredulous – which was not a way he liked to feel, it has to be said.
“Well, it seemed like an idea at the time …” the younger replied, in a manner very aptly described as sheepish.
“You thought, did you? First time for everything, I suppose. But you didn’t think enough, did you?” demanded the Smith.
“How could I know what was going to happen?”
This was too much for the Smith, and the hammer crashed down on the cold anvil, causing the younger to jump.
“How could you know? What do you mean, how could you know? What do you think you are? How could you not know? You’re a god, Pan, remember?”
“And that means what? That I’m ‘all seeing, all knowing?’ Doesn’t say that on anybody’s label but Zeus, and I’m not up to that kind of challenge – ruling you lot of infighting beggars isn’t my idea of a good time”.
“No, everybody knows what your idea of a good time is, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Again?”
“That’s not quite fair, Vulcan. It wasn’t like that. Be fair. I may not be able to always see the future, but I can remember the past perfectly well”, said the younger of the two, lightly brushing a hand over the musical instrument he had carried with him into the forge.
“Well,” said the elder, slightly mollified, “you haven’t told me ‘how it was’, have you? You’ve just given me the bare fact that Apollo’s out for your blood. S’death, Pan. Why go out of your way to annoy him, anyway? Of all of us? You know he’s never really forgiven your father over those cattle.”
“I didn’t set out to annoy him, believe me – I didn’t set out to have anything to do with him at all! How was I supposed to know it was his grove? One grove is much like another, after all – and you could argue I’ve got an interest in most of them anyway, if you tried.”
“I’ve no intention of trying. Rather than keep on telling me how innocent you are, why don’t you just tell me what’s going on? Apollo’s unhappy and it’s got something to do with Pythia, you said. Oh, Pan, no, you’ve not …”
“No, I have not. How daft do you think I am? Oh, very funny .…” he said, as the elder man began to answer, spreading his hands wide. “I may be … less inhibited than some of the others (though even I draw the line at showers of gold!”) Vulcan flinched and Pan laughed – he might not want to rule on Olympus, but he saw no reason to show the ruler much respect, either.
“Randy I may be, but suicidal I am not, and seducing the woman who is not only Apollo’s chosen lover but his high priestess would be a seriously bad idea. I never laid a hand – or anything else – on her. That’s part of the problem ….” His voice trailed off and Vulcan was obliged to recall him to the telling of the story. The Smith’s attention was now riveted on his companion; a worried Pan was a disturbing enough occurrence, though not unheard of. A pensive, Pan, however, lost in his own thoughts: that was a sight strange enough to engage anyone’s attention.
“Right, sorry, I was saying .… It’s simple enough, really. I was passing by this grove – not Apollo’s usual one, not really even a grove – just a group of trees that have always been there. I suppose I should have realised that they’d always been there because people were leaving them alone for a reason, but .…”
“But you didn’t think. For once, no reason you should have – not every stand of trees belongs to one of us, after all”.
Pan looked at the Smith gratefully and continued, “Like I said, I was passing by and saw Pythia was settling down to stay there for the night. No, I did not, before you ask – I realised who she was and left her well alone. I did have a good look around, though, to make sure she would be safe – just to be nice, like.
“Then she went to sleep. I had another look round, decided she’d be safe enough, and went on my way. But she stayed in my mind – after all, it’s not that usual for her to be away from home, is it? He’s not all that keen for her to go wandering.
“Anyway, I must have been thinking about her during the morning because when I went to sleep, she … she walked my dreams.”
Pan shuddered at the last phrase.
Vulcan, however, was impressed. The gods, as a rule, didn’t dream of humans very much, so Pan dreaming of Pythia was unusual enough. But the phrase he’d used, “walked my dreams” meant that Pythia had, in some way, been in control of the process. Vulcan had known she’d been growing powerful, but this was impressive.
“She wanted something, I could feel that. Even asleep, I knew she wanted something. And to be frank, it surprised me – what could I give her that Apollo could not?”
“Could not – or would not?” asked Vulcan.
“Canny Smith – you got it in one. Somehow, even while I was aware that she was there, she made me feel very comfortable and well disposed toward her – considering her looks, that’s not hard, anyway. And the request was a simple enough one, anyway – she merely wanted healing”.
The Smith nodding – he knew as well as anyone the network of healing shrines where people went for ritual sleep, during which they asked Pan for just this gift.
“Fair enough,” I thought, “Maybe Apollo’s busy, or she doesn’t want to bother him – who understands a woman’s mind? I was happy to do what I could .…”
“But. This wasn’t some simple soul seeking healing at Banya. It wasn’t even just a priestess – it was Pythia.
“I was asleep for most of it, but piecing it back together, what I think happened is that when she felt healing going from me to her, when she was sure of it – it would have been just around noon – she managed to wake me up”.
“She chose to wake you up then? Brave woman! I wouldn’t wake you up at noon!”.
Pan shrugged. “She took a risk – but when has he ever been attracted to women who didn’t? Anyway, she woke me. In the heat of the day. In the middle of a healing. Can you imagine what happens when a powerful witch does that to me?”
“No. And I don’t want to. But you’re going to tell me, aren’t you?”
“Less than you might imagine — and then again, more. All of the surprise of being awakened, even the anger at waking up at noon, she managed to channel into the healing. A risk, yes – but one that worked”.
“Ok, so she’s healed. Why’s Apollo so angry? What did you heal her of?”
Pan gazed at Vulcan for a minute or so before answering, quietly, “Death.”
“You healed her of death? How can you do that?”
“I didn’t know I could! I certainly didn’t mean to! She must have spent ages figuring out just how to do it – and was willing to risk everything in the attempt”.
“And …? So …?”
“So, she’s cured of death. In other words, she’ll never die – or not till the healing wears off, or gets reversed or something. But that’s not the problem – or not all of it. Having to put up with any ‘mortal’ woman for more than ten years or so could be enough of a problem for Apollo, I suspect, but this is worse”.
“What is? What’s gone wrong?”
“Vulcan. She’s cured of death – but she woke me at noon – when she’d already managed to get my mind fixed on her”.
Vulcan now returned the younger god’s gaze .…
“She’s mad. You’ve driven her mad, haven’t you?”
“Stark, staring, raving mad. I didn’t drive her mad so much as … it just happened. Some things do, after all. Deer lose their antlers in the winter, metal bends in the heat of the fire, and those who wake me at noon pay the penalty”.
“And she’ll …. She’s insane. And immortal?”
“Or as close to it as makes no difference. And — ”
“Less, really. She asked to be cured of death, and that’s happened. She’d have done better to ask for health. She won’t die – but who knows what will happen to her body in the meantime?”
Vulcan looked at his guest for a few more seconds, and then said simply, “So you’ve come here”.
“Yes, please. It’s out of his way, after all; he’s not likely to drop in on the off chance. He’ll get over it soon enough … which is more than she will”, he added in an undertone.