Discord (A Tamara Story)Rated - Teen for adult themes and violence
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
~ “Lady Lazarus”, Sylvia Plath
Her name was Discord, or at least it used to be.
She had gone to Thetis’ wedding, perhaps invited, perhaps not, thrown an apple, started a war—maybe not, but that was a good story, a worthy one.
The clay for a new face slipped and slid beneath her fingers as the intruder boy next to her stared, only a little magic needed to keep him immobile and transfixed.
She had made the golden apple, the craft that caused strife. That was her specialty, art sown from conflict—beautiful icons to sacrifice to, statues cast from enemy cannons, paintings that made men so envious they shut doors on gas chambers. Either by her hand or those she inspired, all paid for in blood.
Of course, she acclimated to every place she dwelled, like one tried clothes—different names, different speech, different faces. When in Rome, as they say. She could be anything from beautiful to frightening, but the easiest was to put people ill at ease. It was who she was, after all, the nature of her naked power. And she liked this era and place. A middle-aged woman’s countenance along with an acid tongue, and most adults couldn’t wait to escape her presence, most children too, which was fine by her. Children were a force of chaos all their own. She didn’t need the competition.
She glanced at the boy, not even three pygōns tall, rough-cut golden hair that fell into his eyes. Stupid mole folk, why did they let this one wander?
A few per age might seek her out, out of adventure or curiosity. They didn’t have the God-given sense to leave trouble alone. (An idiotic phrase. Gods rarely had any sense at all. Love, pride and greed ruled them with a lash of steel, their sense tossed away like a rotted sacrifice.)
She had heard the Beast’s woman had borne him a cub or two, but she hadn’t put two-and-two together. She must be slipping. Even when a child showed up to her home, gaze full of wonder, trying to make friends, touching what shouldn’t be touched, she didn’t connect them. She’d sent him away, a geis of forgetting cast on his eyes, then doubled her enchantments.
When he returned, proving his lineage beyond all doubt, she caught him, and as soon as she finished with this face she was going to take his.
Why look a gift horse in the mouth?
Because you’d be a fool not to, her smarter-self warned. Yet another stupid phrase. Wasn’t it you who inspired that Greek’s “gift horse” in the first place?
She heard the approach that shouldn’t be possible, given how many shields and snares for the uninitiated she’d lain around her cave. None should be able to break them, but the intruder tore through them like they were paper.
After his brat, no doubt…
“Hades, it’s been a long time,” she called as he came into view.
The lion man, dressed in his usual patchwork garb and cloak, stopped, and braced against the rock arch of the entrance. A shudder traveled him as if something took up puppet strings. Like seeing who stepped from behind the curtain, she witnessed the force behind the face take his form.
“Eris, I did not expect you here, and… visiting… with my Jacob,” he stated in both the beast’s voice and a deeper timbre, a vibration emanating from the very stones.
For such a brutal god, he could be surprisingly polite.
“I always found it strange,” she said, “the God of Death should have such soothing speech.”
“Death can bring peace, Eris. What are you doing here?”
“Doing what I do best, stirring the pot, just as you do what you do best—take a shining woman from the world and make her love you.” She caressed the child’s face, leaving streaks of clay on his cheek. “And how is Persephone?”
“Catherine,” he corrected. “Her name is Catherine. She is well, but pines for her child.”
“She’s always ached after the seeds you gave her. Can never give them up. And in return she traps you to this plane.”
“She calls me here, yes. That is her gift and punishment to me, to experience life that I took without thought.”
Eris abandoned her latest work and wiped her hands on a rag. This guest would need all her attention.
“Had I known you were coming, I would have made Kykeon[i]. I could brew some now,” she suggested.
He sniffed at her offer.
“You of all know Demeter would smite even me if I partook her sacred draught.”
Eris smirked in answer.
After sitting on a jutting rock next to the child, he continued. “Besides, I’d rather drink my wine, not eat it, but I thank you.”
His careful gratitude declared his distrust in her hospitality.
“Supping on my wine is something I don’t miss,” she commiserated and drank a swig of her own vintage from a nearby cup. “I’m glad they left that recipe in the old world.”
“They left many things. But, of course, you knew I would come. This is my home, Eris, not yours.”
“Ha!” she exclaimed and pointed. “And that’s where you are wrong, hated one. My home is everywhere, everywhere men and women dwell, anywhere gods and goddess cultivate magic like wheat, I am there. You know that, Hades-Vincent.”
“You are already my enemy, Eris,” he said in a quiet warning. “Do not anger me further. You sent Eurydice to me. You sewed discord in my house.”
“Yes, I sent her, and Orpheus followed. Figured that out, did you?” Took him long enough. “Aren’t you clever. Persephone never forgave you, did she?”
He nodded while lowering his cowl.
“I pay homage and sacrifice to Love from that day to this.”
“Yes,” she sneered. He did that. “And people call me Discordia. I’ve got nothing on the love goddess.”
“Don’t make me ask again, Eris. Why are you here?”
“When Ares came, he opened the door for me.”
“Ares,” Vincent-Hades sighed, shaking his head, the torchlight glinting off his golden hair. “He allowed you to follow when he took the bitter one… Paracelsus.”
“It wasn’t much of a struggle.” She shrugged. “The alchemist let himself be used. He was greedy for power.”
She liked greed. Strife usually followed in its wake. But John Pater had too much hubris. He presumed it was his efforts that fooled the half-breed, not her spells that disguised his scent, that shrunk his girth so the man-beast believed he was the Father. The alchemist’s hubris left her without her needed due. He gave her nothing but more work… like most men.
As if the creature across from her read her mind, or at least her emotions, he remarked, “Your wine must be sour, Eris. This place isn’t easy on us. You have to have felt it. Why stay?”
“I do just fine.” She took another slow sip.
“No,” he disagreed, shaking his mane, “you dwindle here, like many of our kind. The people of this country sow strife, but blindly, careless of its power. There is no balance. They’ve surrendered too much in pursuit of money, sacrificed untold pelts and trees, killed those they pretended were property, ground to dust people of every shade and creed with their machines and poisons. The dead come to me with ‘why’ on their lips and I must point to the God of greed.”
“Anarchy, hatred, I can partake in that,” she retorted, holding her head high. “The chaos of the city defines me.”
“Meager food for a deity such as yourself.”
He studied the walls a moment.
“You covered your tracks well, Eris. I didn’t realize you were dwelling Below, or that Ares had your help. I should have, but … I was not myself at the time.” He said the last bit in barely a whisper, lost in the memory.
Then he shook off and continued.
“Yet eight years from that time, my son broke through, and I followed, scenting your magics as if they were foul-smelling smoke. You’re still here, making your art, but clearly diminished. Don’t you wish for more?”
“Perhaps.” Who didn’t? “But why are you here, Hades?”
“This is my home, my season of existence.” He gestured to caves beyond. “These are my people, under my protection. You see no intruders, do you? No rats, no floods?” He pointed to the child. “And that’s my son.”
“He is, isn’t he?” Pretending only now to realize. “So what if I …” She closed her hand around the child’s throat. He crumpled into her grasp and gaped in a silent scream. “… ripped this one away. I am not so diminished that you could stop me from taking a sacrifice that walked into my home, my temple. I could truly make him yours, Death.”
“That is not what I meant, ancient one.”
“Then watch your words in my presence!” she yelled, shaking the boy aloft. “I can take his blood! A swift cut to the throat, a virgin child of your line would be enough to sustain me for a hundred lifetimes.”
She threw the boy from her.
He gasped, still gawping, yet unable to run.
“Or I could steal his shadow,” she mused aloud. “He would search forever, never whole, empty, partaking every vice to fill the void.”
The lion-man’s eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms.
“Or I might take his face. What would you tell your shining wife then? That her firstborn is not her own? A changeling? A god of chaos flung like a brand into your cozy circle of existence. What kind of war would we stir up then? We could light the world afire, you and me.”
He sighed. “True, but I am not a god of war. I reap the battle and it is a bitter harvest. I tired of that game after the Titan’s reign.”
She sighed, murmuring under her breath “… you old fuddy-duddy.” Then exhaled. “So long ago now …” A time when her magics seemed almost infinite. When Gods and Titans trembled at her appearance and whims … although not this one. Never him.
“You always were a prig,” she jeered. “Forever doing what the others wouldn’t. Zeus reigned on high and whored, Poseidon nursed his grudges, shaking the earth and flinging his seed across the oceans to disappear or thrive as Fate saw fit, but not you.”
“Existence needs tended,” he explained, “and, as for love, there was only ever one for me.”
“Such schmaltz,” she scoffed, using another of her newly learned words. “Don’t you ever tire of it?” she asked. “Of being the good brother? The one they all rely on and yet everyone disdains? All that arranging, fixing, ‘bringing comfort’, for what?”
“It has its own rewards,” he declared, stroking the boy’s hair.
“But they fight you.”
“They fear their aloneness. They fear their lack of vision for what their lives could be and what they leave undone,” he said, still looking at the boy. “Yet they all come to me. If they’ve lived a good life, they don’t struggle too much when they enter my realm.”
“So then what’s the difference if I send this cub to you now?” She pulled the child to her. “Either way, you win.”
“Because it isn’t his time, and then what, Eris?” he said, staring straight into her. “What comes after your chaos? Death, then order. It is the cycle of destruction and rebirth. It is the power of my mantle and something you’ve never comprehended.”
He stood, his cloak billowing and within she saw the blackest depths of Tartarus.
“Release the boy and move on, Eris … or my consort and I will find you, Above or Below, in day or night, summer or winter. You will never be safe. We shall deprive you of your body and cast you so far it will take a thousand millennia for you to find your way back, and another thousand years and all your arts to fashion a new visage. Any power you would gain you would use, and what would you find after so long? Will there be any humans or gods left to practice your arts on?”
He turned away, pacing the chamber.
“I, too, came when Ares did. He wanted to war on these people.” He again looked about them. “Down here, in this dark haven. It seems so small here.”
Then, tilting his head, as if looking at her in another way, he said, “But he went, and you stayed.”
“Went?” She mocked. “He drew you in with my magics, and you killed him! In the end, he got his war. He got what he wanted.”
“Perhaps, but what did it gain him? And you are deflecting, Eris-Tamara. He departed for my realm, and you stayed. You kept working on your arts and would have remained quiet had this child not found you. That speaks to me.”
“It says nothing,” she spat.
“You’re changing, as I have changed.”
“You know nothing, Hades.”
“No, Tamara-Eris,” he said, in his insufferably calm manner. “I know many things, many more after living in this skin. I have experienced the emotions of mortals and that has taught me much.”
He stared as if seeing into her core.
“Stay here, Discordia, and wither, or take up your other mantle once more.”
“That part is dead.”
“I don’t think so.” The arrogant god shook his head. “As Vincent is an aspect of me, so the artist, the muse is an aspect of you. It always has been. You have aroused the shiftless to toil, to strive when contemplating the wealth of a neighbor, stirred the jealousy of artist for artist. You’ve been the inspiration of invention and change. If you let go of your anger, your bitterness, you could be that again.”
“Why would I wish to? Men are worthless,” she snapped.
“Some are, but you are not.”
Praise, from him? Or just a ruse to rescue his cub with …
“Heed my words, cousin. In my former life, I would have sought your punishment for interfering with me, but now I see we are alike. Times change even us, and I offer you another chance.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Vincent forgives … when he can.”
“He is a killer.”
“To those that threaten him and his, yes. Those who would not heed warnings have felt his claws and rage. But he has gifted me a new aspect—teacher. One that was always within me, but I did not recognize. Death forces us to savor life, to foster it. I have seen children born …” He looked on the boy with the eyes of the proud sire. “… like this little one … I, who believed myself separate, unique, alone … I share their existence. I teach them, protect them and their lives are precious to me.”
“Life precious to Death, how droll.”
He chuffed at her contempt.
“You have power to be more than even I in the city above. You might be anything, Tamara-Eris, look like anyone. Find a life, a purpose, a love. It can sustain you.”
“Pfftt, love!” she scoffed. “You had a destiny, and that’s far too much order for me.”
“Then defy order and choose for yourself. Your cave bespeaks of your love of your craft, Nyx’s daughter. You have inspired through the ages. But why not be the artist now? Why waste your talents down here, hidden from the world? You would be the greatest of the age, making beautiful and terrible things. With your gifts, you could force men to recognize the strife in themselves.”
“You ask me to harness creation?” she asked incredulously.
“As much as any of us can,” he replied.
She hated this god of order … but only a fool dismisses good advice out of hand.
The ass might have a point.
She had stayed underground, biding her time, honing her craft. But you could only escape the world for so long until you either withered away or the world found you again. That girl in the Urals stumbled across her house, despite the trouble she’d gone to put chicken legs on it. And the Beast’s cub discovered her despite the maze she lived in.
But how much more of her magic would it take to return to the world of light?
Did she even wish to? Men were so exhausting.
It seemed insurmountable.
“Those idiots up there want free will … until they need someone to blame. Those who believe think we created the universe to control it. How stupid they are. How naïve.”
She sat next to the boy once more, her joints creaking. The man-god-beast was right. She needed acknowledgement, worship, and she wasn’t getting down here. But would she get it up there?
“A parent sets creation in motion, nurtures it perhaps, but controls it? No. Creation is power unleashed, and that is the true chaos. What parent knows what they’re in for?”
“Hmm.” He grinned with a fleeting smile of deadly fangs. “We surely didn’t.”
“Of course not. And like every parent, we long for what doesn’t need us any more.” She sighed, then turned to the trapped boy. “I’ll tell you a secret child,” she half-whispered. His lip trembled in either fear or relief that she wasn’t immediately threatening his life. “The universe decided to be born, just as you determined when to enter the world. And once it did, the universe separated from us. The Gods on one side, creation on the other.”
“And we who make our existence here are the in-between,” the stuffy god expounded.
“Just as this child runs from you, exploring where he has no right,” she said to the boy’s father, “so too humanity grows away from us.”
“Forgive his curiosity, Tamara-Eris. He is just a child.”
“A spoiled child, like the rest of them. They have forgotten me.”
“Perhaps your name, but not your spirit. Your arts are too good. They pine for magic, even if they do not believe. They need us still—to nurture, to teach, to inspire, and some lessons are not meant for infancy. You could teach them to never forget, and they will thank you with their awe.”
“That is easy for you to say, Vincent. They can never forget you.”
“No. You are right. They may try, but they never will,” he said, eyes ahead, as if speaking to himself. Then he brought his focus to her again.
“Let him go, Tamara. Be my enemy no longer.”
She calculated for a moment more, then chose.
The boy jumped into his father’s embrace.
“It’s all right, Jacob.” His father soothed him. The sire’s forgetting magics calmed the child as he wiped the clay from his cheek.
“I’ll expect a boon, dread one,” she stipulated.
“You shall have it, cousin,” he said, still studying the boy. “And I shall make your journey to the surface easy for you.”
“Good. Now away with you both! You try my hospitality. Next time I see you, I’ll force you to drink the Kykeon.”
He plucked up the child.
“A fate worse than me,” he joked, hiking the boy to his hip.
“Oh, vamoose, you tiresome bore of a deity!” she said, flipping her hand in the exit’s direction.
“I will depart,” he declared, serious once more, “if you promise to leave my home, my people unharmed and never look back.”
“I swear on Lachesis’ Skein. I won’t get caught like your flute player.” She motioned to the boy. “But don’t let your offspring wander too far again. He got lucky this time. Use those teaching skills. There are worse things than me running about the universe.”
The protector of the underworld began his long walk home, shrinking faster than his steps and her perspective should allow, the god aspect diminishing.
“I will, Tamara,” came the lion-man’s voice from strides onward.
Yelling after him, she added a parting shot. “And remind him that curiosity killed the cat!”
English could be filled with idiocies, but that was as astute a phrase as she’d ever heard.
She chuckled at her triumph over death through her packing and all the way to the daylight.
But she kept her promise.
She never looked back.
[i] Kykeon is a drink made of barley and wine (and sometimes cheese!) It was used in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter, Persephone’s mother.
Here is a fantastic video about making it on the Tasting History channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtkAU4juIZU&t=16s