Story 21 is “What Now, Callisthenes” by Christine Lucas. When her Feline Overlords permit it, she scribbles tales of historical fiction in all its subgenres. It comes as no surprise that most of her stories feature cats. Born and raised in Greece, now a retired Air Force Officer, she has had her work appear in several online and print magazines, including Daily Science Fiction, Cabinet des Fées, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her short story “Dominion” (also known as “The Book of Genesis According to Cats”) appears in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Tails of Wonder and Imagination from Night Shade Books. She is currently working on her first novel. Visit her at: http://www.christinlucas.com/.
What Now, Callisthenes
By Christine Lucas
Why would the king’s sister venture through the slums of Babylon, oh fair Thessalonike? You slip out of the palace, clad in a man’s clothes, while Alexander, your brother and king, lies feverish in his bed. And I, less than a man but more than a shadow, float in your hurried wake through dark alleys to the witch’s door.
A hag sits cross-legged upon the dirt, grey hair matted, face wrinkled and scarred. She doesn’t look Persian, or Scythian, or even an expatriate Egyptian priestess. And she certainly doesn’t look Greek. But, oh daughter and sister of great kings, if only you could see her as I do, my beloved, through sight not of flesh but of spirit, you’d know that she’s none of these. She’s all of them and more. The spectral host of her foremothers back to the world’s making, crowd up behind her. Her kind knows neither Lord nor Land.
You tiptoe through her filth: animal fur, bones, broken pottery, chunks of rotting fruits and vegetables, and sit carefully upon a creaking stool. Your gaze darts, doubts crease your brow. Have you made a mistake? Have those who sent you here played a cruel joke?
“You seek the Immortal Water,” she says. A heavily-accented voice, a mix of Greek and Persian words.
Your head snaps up. She cannot know this. You haven’t spoken of your plans to anyone, not even Alexander.
“I was told in my youth,” you say, “that it drips from a crevice, a crack in the cliffs over a chasm where the waters of Styx puddle, dark and bottomless.” The waters of Styx, back in Olympias’ homeland. Thetis once dipped her son Achilles in it, to shield him from harm. She missed his heel. “It’s not there.”
“That spring has dried since the time of Achilles.” The witch’s features seem to shift under the light of the lone oil lamp. Now young, now old, silence and whispers, a glimpse of the Eternal stubbornly clinging onto the Old Ways.
“Dried?” You bite your lip. Your hands twist the hem of your tunic. “There must be another.”
“Oh, there is.”
Crooked hands stroke dirt, as if stroking a cat. It’s not felinity that stirs at her touch, but ancient, liquid divinity. Tethys, Tiamat, Thalatt?, there slumbers the Lady of Deep Waters, ever-flowing upon the current between worlds, between what was and what is, connecting the many Ages of the world. The Nile, the Acheron, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Styx and the Aegean Sea are but droplets of the Eternal Ocean.
Want more? The anthology is available in print and Kindle versions. For details, see the Parsec Ink Page.
Reviews to date:
“What Now, Callisthenes” by Christine Lucas retells the legend of Thessalonike who became immortal when trying to save the life of her brother, Alexander the Great. This is told through the words of the dust ghost of the historian Callisthenes, who in life praised Alexander (until Alexander accepted the ways of the Persians) and was killed for having betrayed Alexander. Here, however, Alexander killed Callisthenes for loving his half-sister, Thessalonike. The telling here is a bit over-wrought, yet would not a love-sick dust ghost be overwrought over the life of the woman he loves? It gives the tale a Romantic flavor in both senses of the term; however, it’s not clear why Callisthenes is telling the tale as it is not his story and has no major stake (unless it is to lend it more of an old-fashioned savor). – Trent Walters, SF Site.
We travel to ancient Babylon for “What Now, Callisthenes,” the story of Thessalonike, the sister of Alexander the Great. Alexander is dying and Thessalonike seeks the immortal water of the River Styx to save his life, accompanied by the ghost-like Callisthenes. The story starts out as a quest, but Christine Lucas adds an extra level of drama where the discovery of the water is only the beginning. An excellent story and one of the best in the book. – Chuck Rothman, Tangent Online.
What do you think? We were impressed by the delicate balancing act of this story. It has plot, character, and historic context, as well as a wonderfully unusual narrative technique.