Since I’m in the mood for posting fiction, I thought I’d finally get around to posting the short story I submitted to Askei Kataskei months ago. I always meant to post it here after AK had come out, but with everything else going on in my life, that sort of didn’t happen. So here, have some more Hekate fic.
This was written for the March creative project, in which we were asked to write a short story choosing one of four scenarios/prompts. I chose the last, which included an opening line (“We will never know what is on the mind of the Goddess Hekate”), and another line (“she tied her red cord from her Covenant of Hekate devotion around her ankle, lit the red candle, recited her hymn and began the ritual as planned”), which we had to include somewhere else in the text. Length was limited to 4 pages, which I just managed to hit.
I don’t know where this world is, or what else might happen here, but maybe I’ll play around with it some more. I met some interesting characters here.
“We will never know what is on the mind of the Goddess Hekate,” the Oracle intoned. “Even I, Her Oracle, sees nothing. She reveals nothing of Her mind to me. All I see are Her visions for us.”
“And what do you see?”
The Oracle closed Their eyes, and stirred a finger through the waters in the cauldron, chanting under Their breath. “I see two roads. One leads into the desert. The other leads into the ocean.”
“Does She indicate which we should take?”
The Oracle raised a finger, asking for silence. More incense was thrown on the fire, and a libation of wine poured into the earth. “The red cord will guide us. That is all She says.”
The city had not been well for some time. An unsuccessful takeover from a rival faction had stirred up chaos and discord, and left the city vulnerable to invasion by the city across the sea. Skirmishes on the water had been going on for many months, and fishing vessels were hesitant to leave the harbour in case they didn’t come back. Soldiers filled the streets, fighting each other as much as they were fighting to protect the city.
High above the city, the sanctuary of the Covenant of Hekate watched the city unravel. The sanctuary had been tended by Hekate’s priestesses for hundreds of years, and it was one of the few temple spaces where men were not allowed. It had begun life as a place of exile, where priestesses excluded from the city were left to die. Resilient, and defiant, they had created a sanctuary instead, where women were allowed to own their power, and the Goddess was not left without due honour.
Below them, the low growl of engines and the distant thunder of cannon fire echoed dimly across the river.
Five days passed. The omens did not look good. From their cave, overlooking the crowded city below, the Oracle could see the trouble coming. The gods were not being respected. Anger was growing. Shades were beginning to gather at the boundaries, waiting by the walls, waiting to cross over.
At dusk, a man approached the cave, bearing an offering of flowers, wine, and meat. Dressed in a simple white tunic, with a pack on his back, the tattoos on his forearms told of his occupation as a soldier. He wore no shoes, and no jewellery. The only adornment he had was a red cord tied around his ankle.
He was seen by two priestesses, but they did not approach him. The man stayed outside the boundary of the cave, and began to set up an altar to Hekate, unpacking the sacred images and tools he had brought with him. In the dying light, with only flame to guide him, he built a fire-pit, and all around him, candlelight marked the space he had made sacred, as he offered to the goddess all that he had brought. It was thrown in the fire.
In the caves, the priestesses watched.
“Why is he still here? Surely he should have made his offerings and left.”
The priestesses looked at each other, and then out to the man still camped outside the caves.
“Perhaps he deserted, or he would have gone back,” one said. “Should we tell the Oracle yet? It has been two days now.”
“No, wait. It does not feel like the right time to disturb him. Perhaps he will leave of his own accord, and then he will not be a problem anymore,” the other said.
After the third day, the Oracle came out to watch him, keeping to the shadows as she observed him. He bore the markings of a soldier, but there was the red cord around his ankle, which troubled her greatly. Something in his presence felt significant, but Hekate was not offering any explanations, except to wait for the full moon.
As the full moon rose in the sky two days later, the Oracle left the caves with her attendants to see what the man wanted. He bowed as he saw the women approaching, and did not look at them.
“What brings you to the Covenant’s lands?” the Oracle asked.
“My name is Ékyas, and I have worshipped Hekate since I was nine years old. I was a soldier in the city guard, and I had planned to stay with my men and defend the city. Hekate sent me a vision of escape during the last new moon, and this is where She told me to come, and what to bring. I know I should not be allowed into the sanctuary, and I do not ask for protection. But as a soldier, I know you will not be safe here forever, and Hekate sent me as a warrior to accompany you,” the soldier said, kneeling before them.
“Why do you wear that red cord? You know we do not initiate men,” the Oracle said.
“Hekate asked for it a decade ago as a sign of our devotion. It was forged with our blood during the new moon, during the magical rites we have developed together. I normally wear it around my neck as a sign that I am bound to Her, but She asked me to wear it around my ankle when She told me to come to you. I do not know the reasons for this,” Ékyas said.
“It was a sign for us, I think. Hekate’s initiates wear red cords on our ankles. No one who hasn’t been through the Mysteries with us should wear any such thing, especially not a man. What did she tell you to do once you arrived here?” the Oracle said.
“I have been praying since I arrived. I have made offerings every day. She said She would reveal Her plans tonight. All I know is that you can’t stay here, and you will have to leave. I know of a few places where you might be safe, places in the desert far away from here. I have left my weapons, and my armour, safely concealed further down the mountain. When you are ready to leave, I will retrieve them, if you wish me to accompany you,” Ékyas said.
“How do you know these places will be safe? I know this landscape better than anyone. If there had been a place to flee to, we would have left by now, if we felt we needed to leave,” the Oracle said.
Ékyas stood, and took out a map from the pack. “There is a land. She has indicated an oasis to me, where we might find shelter and peace.”
“She would tell you this and not Her Oracle? Who are you to speak for Hekate?” the Oracle said.
“I claim to speak for no one, least of all you, Great One. She has shown me this place, here, on the map. It’s in the desert, but it is safe. It is not known. We would be safe there, when the soldiers come,” Ékyas said, showing the Oracle the map.
The Oracle considered it. She was, of course, familiar with the landscape. It had always shared its secrets with her. The oasis the man indicated was, perhaps, a month’s travel on foot. Crossing the desert was not a task they were built for, nor had the supplies for.
“We would never reach it alive. Bleached skeletons in the desert sands, that is our fate,” the Oracle said. “Lay out this map, then, and if Hekate speaks for you, let your red cord choose our fate. If it is indeed forged with Hekate’s blood, then She will reveal to us our place of sanctuary.”
Ékyas nodded, and lay out the map before the Oracle. He handed the Oracle the cord, and stepped back as they set up the altar to perform the rite. The priestesses lay the map down before the altar he’d made, and set red candles on each corner. The Oracle knelt before the map, and took the cord in her hand as she invoked the goddess. Incense was lit, and wine poured into the ground. Meat was offered to the fire, and the red cord bathed in moonlight.
With a final petition to the goddess to show them their place of sanctuary, the Oracle threw the red cord into the air and let it fall. It felt softly through the air, guided by an invisible hand. It twisted and shaped itself and when it landed, it had circled a location on the map.
The Oracle leaned over to read the place marker. She closed her eyes. “Ahh, the Dark Valley. Now that we can get to.”
That evening, the Oracle retreated to her chamber, to the altar that housed Hekate’s sacred image. The statue of Hekate stood large against the wall, the shadows from the torches around the room dancing across her veiled face. The Oracle took in the sight, breathing in Her presence. The soft scent of incense drifted through the air, and she took her time to prepare for the ritual. Perhaps the soldier was right, and Hekate would reveal Her plans for them tonight.
Once everything was prepared, all the initiates gathered for the ritual. A low, steady beat echoed around them, then a chant, going around the room from priestess to initiate to priestess. Standing before the altar, the Oracle tied her red cord from her Covenant of Hekate devotion around her ankle, lit the red candle, recited her hymn and began the ritual as planned.
The ritual itself was a storm of energy. The Oracle had fallen into a trance halfway through, and recorded Hekate’s directions for their journey, and for the sanctuary they would build there. They were told what signs to look out for, and they were told to prepare to leave the next day at dusk, so Hekate could hide them with Her shadow.
The last thing the Oracle recorded was the place for the new shrine, and the specific ritual the Oracle would have to do in order to consecrate the shrine again. There were particular things Hekate asked for, and some would be collected on their journey. As the ritual was drawing to a close, as the shrine slowly lost its power, the ground shook and explosions blasted through the air. The war was closing in.
The day was spent preparing to leave. It was distraction enough from the fighting below. Anything they could not bring with them was destroyed, or thrown in the river that ran through the caves. Ékyas did all he could to help. Retrieving his weapons and armour, he kept watch, scouting the mountainside for danger. He knew the soldiers were coming. All he had to do was keep them away until the priestesses could escape. Then his job would be done.
Dusk came sooner than they wanted. They had to leave by moonrise if they wanted to arrive unscathed, whether they had enough to survive or not. The Oracle was sure Hekate would provide if necessary, but she did not wish to rely on Her if they didn’t have to.
The Oracle held the map, making a final note of the route they were to take, as they gathered outside the cave, preparing to leave. Everything they were bringing with them was packed onto two wagons, while the sacred items, including Hekate’s statue, were packed separately onto a smaller cart, hurriedly converted into something that could be used as a shrine until they established their new home.
Everyone was nervous. Smoke drifted up from the forest, tanks were shelling again, and the land tremored. The city glowed with fire. It was only a matter of time before the mountain was taken. An invasion was an invasion; by whom it did not matter. The safety of the Covenant, and Hekate’s temple, was all that mattered. And still, everyone was nervous.
Ékyas approached them, and bowed, laying his gun down. “The path is as safe as I can manage on my own. I hope it is enough.”
“You would not come with us?” the Oracle asked.
“I assumed you would not wish a man to travel with you. After all, no men are allowed in the Covenant,” Ékyas said.
The Oracle considered him. “Perhaps you will be useful. If Hekate sent you, it was for a reason. Come. Stand. Look at me. Let me see your face.”
Ékyas stood, his stance betraying his status as a soldier. “If Hekate wishes me to go, I will go. Otherwise, I will stay, and cover your tracks to ensure you are not followed.”
The Oracle closed her eyes and whispered a prayer. “Let the bark of a dog signify your presence with us. If Hekate wishes it, send us a dog.”
The moon was beginning to crest above the horizon. Silence filled the air for once. Everyone listened carefully for the sign they had asked for, and the seconds turned into minutes, no one willing to give up before a sign had been given, no matter what sign it was.
Just as the Oracle was about to give up, as the moon was beginning to crest above the horizon, Ékyas seemed to hear something, and turned around. Something was running up the mountain, nothing more than a shadow, until it became apparent it was indeed a dog, barking, as it ran straight to Ékyas. Ékyas was overjoyed, recognising the dog as it ran into his arms.
“Janus! Where did you come from? Oh, Janus. Thank the gods you’re alive,” Ékyas said, embracing the dog. It was a slender grey hunting god with a patch of white across its back. Ékyas turned to the Oracle. “This is my dog, Janus. He went missing the day before I left, and I thought he’d been killed. I was so worried. I never thought I’d see him again. Even if I stay here, I will be happy, now that Janus is here.”
The Oracle nodded, accepting the sign for what it was. “I asked Hekate to send us a dog, and She sent us a dog. It seems She wishes for you to accompany us.”
Ékyas bowed, awkwardly, and set the dog down. It sat by his feet, refusing to move from his side. “If it is Hekate’s will, so shall it be. I will come.”
A large explosion rumbled all around them, accompanied by gunfire and the cries of men. The Oracle looked towards it, resolute, as the moon loomed large, beginning its ascent into the sky.
“Come, we will go now. That shelling is getting close. Do not look back. Look forward to the sanctuary we will soon build for Her,” the Oracle said.
With the moon at their back, and the caves growing small into the distance, the Covenant stepped into the uncertain future, watching for Hekate’s torches to light the way.