Thursday Thousand: The Messenger

Welcome to the Thursday Thousand! Every week, on Thor’s Day, I will be posting a short story (hopefully) written in advance. The only parameter is that it be, at minimum, 1000 words long. It can be any genre, any length beyond that, and even contain mild cliffhangers! Why? Because some of these will turn into novels, let’s be honest here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!

This is the third in my Greek mythos series. The first, The Ferryman, is about Charon, gatekeeper to the underworld and guardian of the river Styx. The second, The Queen, is about her majesty, Persephone, goddess of spring and queen of the underworld. Again, while these are linked, you do not need to read the other two to understand, though some things will definitely make more sense if you do. I also know that I said I was going to write in Icarus’ POV, and then this happened. Icarus is coming soon, but first, a soft, sweet boy. don’t lie that’s all of my boys


As messenger to the gods, Hermes was witness to the good, the bad, and everything in-between.

He was there the day Zeus finally gave up, when he hung his blonde head in defeat, when rain fell from his fingertips like tears that refused to fall from his eyes, when he said, “It’s over.  He’s made it very clear.”  Hermes delivered the wildest messages of all for Zeus, but his quiet correspondence to his brother had always been simple—letters, every time, small pleas full of hope and forgiveness and sorrow and love.  And every time, when Hermes silently delivered them to the king of hell, Hades cast the letter into the fire.  And every time, when Hades turned to glare at Hermes, Persephone, goddess of spring and queen of the underworld, fished the letter out, smoothed away the burnt edges, and pocketed it.

Hermes knew the letters all survived, and for that, he was glad.  When Zeus gave up, when he stopped trying to reach out and reconnect with his brother, Hermes thought about telling him that the letters survived, that there was still a chance, but he just nodded and left Zeus to his grief.

He was there the first day Charon ever set foot on the beach of the river Styx.  His greatest enjoyment in life was annoying the little ferryman, but that day, Hermes stood squeezed between the twins’ shoulders, beaming with pride right along with them, as Hades finally handed Charon his fabled staff.

He was there the day Atlas sunk to one knee and proposed to Selene, and there every time after Selene said not yet and Atlas smiled.

He was there the day his best friend’s tragedy finally took flight.

Of all the moments Hermes bore witness to, the fall of Icarus would stay with him forevermore.

Hermes first met Icarus on one of his many journeys back to Zeus to inform the king of the heavens that his brother had cast his latest letter to the fire again.  Spring was near, which meant the king of hell was in a fouler mood than usual, but which also meant that flowers were slowly beginning to unearth themselves.  Hermes spotted several of his favorite, yellow dandelions, on his way across the world.  He always took the long way back to Zeus when he had bad news, and so he didn’t mind stopping now.  He dropped into the field, wandering around as he gathered dandelions, and he was perched on a rock under the high, cold sun, stringing the weed flowers together, when a man fell out of the sky.

Hermes frowned, watching the horizon, and sure enough, a man alighted a few minutes later, great, mechanical wings carrying him a few unsteady feet before he plummeted again.  Hermes continued to string his flowers, watching in utter bewilderment, as the man kept trying to fly.  When the crown was finished, Hermes nestled the dandelions over his wiry brown curls and slid off the rock.  He took a few loping steps, and then he was in the air, soaring gracefully through the sky just in time for the man to take flight again.  Hermes pulled a weird face when the man spotted him, and laughed in delight as the man abruptly fell out of the sky.

Hermes landed next to him, and that was how he met Icarus.

Icarus, who loved the sky more than anything.

Icarus, who’d built mechanical wings so he could get closer to the clouds.

Icarus, who sat in fields with Hermes, tools scattered around him while Hermes collected flowers.

Icarus, who didn’t make fun of Hermes’ overalls as the weather got warmer, who started going barefoot whenever Hermes was around so they both would have dirty feet, who leaned across the pile of flowers Hermes had gathered one day and asked if it was okay for him to kiss a god.

Icarus, who acted with such grace and humility when Hermes quickly leaned away and said, “No.  I’m not into that.”

Icarus frowned at him, though the frown disappeared as Hermes explained he just wasn’t into any of that period, that despite the stories of gods and goddesses getting it on like mad rabbits all the time, Hermes wasn’t like that.  He had plenty of friends, and he wanted to keep them all as just that—friends.

Icarus, who quickly backpedaled into an apology for ever having assumed anything and crossing a boundary.

And Hermes, who just flung a flower crown at him and smiled.

When Hermes wasn’t delivering messages for the pantheon, when he wasn’t whispering goodwill into thieves’ souls—Hermes spent his time with Icarus.  They usually met in fields where Hermes could stick his bare toes in the dirt and fill his arms with flowers, but sometimes they met on the beach, where Icarus would turn a nice golden color and Hermes would get nearly as dark as his hair.  Sometimes, Hermes hoisted Icarus onto his back and leapt into the air.  He couldn’t carry him very far, but it was enough to hear Icarus’ whoop of joy, enough to see his face fill with awe when they landed.  Sometimes, Icarus stumbled across beautiful nuggets of gold while out looking for supplies, and he always brought them back to Hermes, who, like a little magpie, kept a hoard of them, dashed across all of his pockets.

And then, a little under a year since they’d become friends, Icarus off-handedly mentioned his birthday was coming up soon.  He hoped that Hermes was free, that he might be able to come into town and have dinner with his family and friends.  Hermes could easily fit in among mortals, and so he quickly agreed.  He left early that day, citing a backlog of messages that he had to deliver, and though he felt bad about lying to his friend, it allowed Hermes to catch Atlas just before he made his nightly proposal to Selene.

He found Atlas as the god was wandering through the Himalayas.  He liked to propose in different spots, and Hermes was certain he’d proposed in every spot possible on the earth, but Selene seemed to love them all.  The sun always set first near the towering heights of the Himalayas, so Hermes put on an extra burst of speed as he caught sight of Atlas’ dark hair and wide shoulders.

“Hermes!” Atlas crowd as the messenger god twisted a fast circle around him.

Hermes dropped out of the air, breathing hard, and got straight to the point.  “I know you’re busy,” he said, casting a hand vaguely behind him at the horizon, “I’ve come to commission something from you.”  Atlas’ brow furrowed as he stared down at Hermes.  He’d always been smaller than the rest of the pantheon, though it had stopped bothering him long ago.  “My friend is in love with the sky,” Hermes explained, “And he wants nothing more in the world than to see it up close.”

Atlas’ smile was immediate, though his gaze had also drifted past Hermes, who withered a little at the thought that he hadn’t arrived in time.

“Is that the boy with the wings made of wires and metal things?” a sweet, musical voice asked from behind him.  Hermes spun, and hope flared in his chest again.

“My lady,” he said, dipping into a fast bow.

“I like him,” Selene said.  She turned her pale grey gaze upon Atlas.  “Honor him with a gift, and I will bring you a true answer upon his first flight.”

Hermes gaped openly at Selene.

Atlas dropped to one knee.

Selene smiled at him, her gaze fond.

And that was how Hermes became responsible not just for Icarus’ wings, but for the grand wedding between Atlas and Selene.

The wings were not ready until mere hours before Hermes was due to meet Icarus for his birthday, and his patience was wearing thin when Atlas finally crossed his path.  “I expect him to fly at first light,” Atlas said as he handed over the massive, wrapped package.

“You won’t get to propose until nighttime anyway,” Hermes said as he eagerly hefted the package in his arms.

“I’ll be watching the skies, young Hermes,” Atlas said firmly before he continued his walk.

Hermes hid the package in his favorite field near Icarus’ town before hurrying over to a tree at the edge of the field.  There was a hole dug into the tree’s side, and wedged inside were a pair of sandals, appropriate clothes for a mortal of this time, and a single dandelion.  Hermes smiled, stuck the dandelion behind his ear, and quickly changed.  The sandals were uncomfortable, but he vastly preferred them over shoes, which made his feet tremble and sweat with fear.  He didn’t like to feel confined, and his feet were such a powerful part of his flight and speed that wrapping them away felt wrong.

Dinner with Icarus’ family and friends was a bright, raucous affair.  They all clearly loved him as dearly as Hermes did, and Hermes felt himself drawn to their affection.  He didn’t quite long for it in his busy life, but it was a nice change of pace to be around.  He received several requests for messages while he was there, though he’d been very clear with the pantheon that he was taking a few hours off.  He ignored them, sighing at the thought of a hellish night spent racing around so that he could be back in the morning on time.

He didn’t give Icarus the wings that night.  He told him that his present needed to wait until first light, and Icarus nearly fell over at this.  “You got me something?” he asked, “But you’re—you’re a—”

“Your friend,” Hermes said before Icarus could put him on a pedestal, “And nothing more.”

When the night finally came to an end, Hermes left Icarus to retire to sleep and went off to ferry messages across the skies.

*

Hermes was never going to ask for a gift from the gods ever again.

He hadn’t quite realized the ramifications of asking Atlas for wings for a mortal, and it wasn’t until much later that it started to unravel.

That first morning, when Hermes brought Icarus to the field and threw back the packaging, Icarus promptly sat down and started crying.  Hermes smiled in delight, aware that these were tears of joy, and he waited while Icarus put himself back together.  The wings Atlas had built were beyond anything Hermes had ever seen.  They were startlingly white and dusted with gold.  Several straps harnessed Icarus to them, and the moment they settled at his back, they came alive, snapping out with incredible speed and strength.  It took some work, that first morning, for Icarus to understand the mechanics of them, the life of them, but he had flown with so many shoddy mechanical wings before that he was quick to grasp how to make them work.

True to his word, as Icarus took to the skies that first morning, as Hermes leapt up to follow him, Atlas was there in the distance, hand at his brow as he tipped his head back and watched Icarus fly.

That night, when Atlas dropped to one knee and proposed to the goddess of the moon, she said yes, and so began the grandest wedding since Zeus and Hera.  All of the pantheon was to be invited, and when Hermes received his invitation, he was surprised to find Icarus’ name listed on it.  “What’s this?” he asked when he looked back up at Atlas.

“It is because of young Icarus that my love has finally agreed to be my bride,” Atlas said, “I would have him witness the fruits of his dreams.”

No mortal had ever witnessed a wedding between a god and goddess before, but what Hermes did not know, and what Icarus was only just beginning to discover, was that the wings were gently taking away Icarus’ mortality, were softly peeling away the layers of his humanity until he was something different, something more.

It began, as it always did, with Helios.

God of the sun, Helios had been curious about the mortal with the wings for some time, though Hermes was hesitant to introduce them at the wedding.  He’d heard stories about Helios, and even seen some of it in person, witnessed while bearing a message, and he didn’t want his friend caught up in the chaos of the pantheon.  But Icarus was like a beacon that moths were drawn to.  Everyone wanted to shake his hand.  Everyone wanted to meet the mortal Hermes had befriended and gifted wings.  Everyone wanted to meet this living legend that was causing such a stir among their fellow godkind.

It was the first time Icarus was called a legend, and the first time Hermes winced at the naming.  Legends were wild stories, myths almost, that were said to have passed on.  Legends were either dead or buried, tucked away or forgotten.  Legends didn’t exist anymore, and he didn’t enjoy Icarus being called one.

Truthfully, Hermes never saw that first interaction between Icarus and Helios.  He was only aware of it several days later when Icarus swept out of the sky into their field and said, “I’ve just come from the sun.  The sun, Hermes!”

And so began the tragedy of Icarus.

Hermes tried only once to warn Icarus away from Helios, but it was for naught.  Icarus promised he was being careful, promised he understood what intermingling with gods was like, promised that he knew better.  He was friends with a god, he said.  He knew how to treat with them.

Hermes, who loved flowers and hated sandals.

Hermes, who was soft when necessary, when brothers were brokenhearted, and fierce when required, when kings sent out charges of heresy.

Hermes, who ran through grass without taking flight just because he liked the feel of it on his fingers.

Hermes, who held buttercups up to his chin.

Hermes, who dozed in rivers.

Hermes, who had never said an unkind word and meant it.

Icarus knew nothing about treating with a god.  Perhaps, if he had followed Persephone around like a puppy, he might have been fine.  Perhaps, if he had sought to worship Zeus, he might have survived.  Perhaps, if he called out sweet messages to Hypnos, he might have been okay.  But instead, Icarus fell in love with Helios, and Hermes readied for the world to burn.

At first, it was a quiet thing.  At first, Helios seemed to care for Icarus, as well.  At first, Icarus drew constellations through Helios’ freckles and Helios swept gold sunshine through Icarus’ hair when they kissed.  At first, Helios even deigned to descend from his home in the sky to meet the god Icarus called his friend.  At first, Hermes didn’t think anything terrible was about to happen.

Later, he wondered if Helios had ever cared.  He wondered if it had all been a game to him.  He wondered if something had come between them.  He wondered if it was Icarus’ fault.  He wondered, and he wondered, and he wondered, because after it all, Icarus refused to speak to him.  He refused to speak to anyone that had known him before.  He moved far from his home, and he settled into a quiet life that would go on and on and on because he was no longer mortal, but not quite a god.  He had become something else, something different, something more.

*

Hermes was anxiously shifting his weight from foot to foot the day it happened.  Zeus had decided he was going to try again.  He’d had a brilliant idea, he claimed, and he was making Hera read over his letter before he sent Hermes off with it.  Hera kept sighing and reminding her husband that now, right now, was the worst possible time for Zeus to send a letter to his brother.  “It’s the middle of the summer,” Hera said softly, one hand threaded through Zeus’ long, blonde hair, “He will be in no such mood that receiving this will lighten it.”

“That’s exactly it,” Zeus said, so positive he had the right of it that nothing could sway him, “He’s so down in his grief that it’s the exact right time for it.  This will pull him up out of his sorrow and bring us back together.  It will be a boon, Hera.  A lifeboat.”

“Those are two entirely different things,” Hermes said quietly.

Zeus threw the letter at him.

Hermes caught it, sighed, and turned around in time to watch something plummet through the air.  Hermes frowned, leaning forward to try to see it clearer.  He felt Zeus and Hera moving to join him, coming up on either side of him, and Hermes realized what it was at the same time as the king.  “Oh gods,” Zeus exhaled as Hermes vaulted into the air, climbing higher and higher so that when he finally twisted and dove, he was moving faster than he ever had before.  Distantly, he could hear lightning crackling through the sky, could hear Hera shouting for help, could hear the pantheon holding its breath as Hermes streaked through the sky after the falling figure wrapped in fire.

He was too late.

He was not so late that he didn’t catch Icarus, but he was too late for everything else.

When Hermes finally got close enough, he latched onto his friend’s ankle, and he felt the skies gasp as he hurled his arm back, whipping Icarus up and overhead.  He felt the skies watching as Hermes twisted over, opening his arms wide.  He felt the skies release its held breath as he caught Icarus, kicked at the air, and threw them headlong into the nearest body of water.

Hermes didn’t stop once they’d hit the water.  He pulled Icarus down, submerging him until the flames snuffed out, and then he dragged him back up, yanking him through the water until he could toss him onto the shore.  He scrambled out after him, his brown hair dripping over his eyes and his bare feet cold from the icy water.  He swept his curls back away from his forehead and dropped to his knees next to Icarus.

Hermes stared at his friend.

He’d caught him, but he was too late.

Icarus’ wings were a ruin of charred feathers.  Not only that, there were no straps, no harness holding them in.  Hermes hadn’t noticed it happening because summer was a busy time for him, and he wasn’t able to visit as often, but with every visit to the skies, with every step away from the mortal world and into Helios’ arms, the wings had begun to fuse to Icarus’ body until they were a part of him, until he was no longer mortal, until he was something more.

And now, the wings were a mess of ash and smoke.

The legend of Icarus, they were already calling it.  The fall of a legend, they whispered.  They had already named him thus, and now he had become it.

*

Of all the rules in the pantheon, Hermes found this one the most asinine: none could leave the underworld while Persephone was in season in the mortal world, and yet Hermes could come and go as he pleased.  He thought it likely there was some kind of unbreakable oath between the brothers three, and he didn’t press it farther than that.  It came in use on days like today, though, when there was a rumor going around that an old legend, Chaos, was back.  Charon would have the right of it, so Hermes slipped through the barrier that held over the sky of the underworld and angled toward the beach that lined Styx.

He didn’t like to fly in hell, so his visits were always quick, no lingering amid the clouds.  As he approached the grey sands, though, it was not just Charon on the beach, and Hermes quietly drifted over to the black mountains surrounding the beach.  He didn’t want to interrupt Charon while he was ferrying a soul, so he settled in to wait.  Charon was usually quick about it, getting the soul onto the boat one way or another, and then casting off.  His trip across the river and back took under an hour, but as Hermes watched, it was to find that Charon hadn’t even acknowledged the soul on the beach.  Even stranger, the soul was steadfastly ignoring Charon, and was instead pacing along the edge of the beach, near the base of the mountains, almost like he was searching for something—a way out, Hermes realized.

Hermes frowned, and he might have done more had the soul not turned around and forced Hermes to bear witness to his wings.

The last time Hermes had seen those wings, they’d been burned beyond recognition, barely a quarter of the glorious size they’d once been, and a statement of Helios’ cruelty.  Now, though the edges were stained black and ash drifted through the rest, though several feathers still looked injured, twisted painfully, they were massive again, white glittered with gold, and they looked powerful.

Hermes didn’t waste a single second thinking about it before he dove off of the mountain, alighted on the grey sands of the beach, and said, “I thought you were dead.”

“Well, I am now,” Icarus said furiously before he turned around and saw who he was talking to.

From his rock, Charon flung a hand in the air.  His chin was in his other hand, and his gaze was fixed on the river Styx.  “Chaos is back.  He killed Icarus.”

Hermes blinked at Icarus.

Icarus, who had been his best friend for so long.

Icarus, who had nearly fallen to his death, and who had left after Hermes saved him.

Icarus, who Hermes hadn’t spoken to in almost a decade.

“Seriously?” Hermes said, “This is how you die?  Not falling from the skies?  Not nearly burning to death?  A forgotten legend breaks out of his cage and comes after you?  Why?”

“There aren’t many of us left,” Icarus said softly, and then, as if it needed clarification, “Legends.”

“What the hell happened?” Hermes demanded.

Charon, finally sensing that something was happening, turned to frown at them.  “You know Icarus?” he asked, his scowling eyes on Hermes.

“I flew too close,” Icarus said, as though Charon hadn’t spoken, “The sun is full of fire that close.”

“Speak plainly,” Hermes said, “Tell me what he did to you.”

Icarus shrugged one shoulder, his attention snapping back as his wing shifted.  Hermes couldn’t imagine what it felt like, to have them here after so long without them.  Still looking at the golden white wing, Icarus whispered, “You warned me.  You told me he was cruel.  You told me to be careful, to stay away.”  Icarus slowly looked away from his burned wing and back to Hermes.  “I told him that I loved him, and he set fire to my heart.  And then he cast me out of the sun.”

Helios pushed Icarus to his death was what Hermes heard.

Helios laughed when Icarus professed his love, swept a hand over his wings, and set them ablaze was what Hermes understood.

Helios found himself bored with his not-quite mortal and threw him away like a toy was what Hermes listened to.

“Icarus,” Hermes exhaled, his feet propelling him forward before he had time to reconsider.

“Please don’t hate me,” Icarus said, and then he was crumbling to his knees, flinching as his wings pushed against the ground.

“Never,” Hermes promised as he fell to his knees in front of Icarus and swept his friend into an embrace.  “There’s nothing to forgive,” Hermes said as he held Icarus tightly, “Only things to heal from.  I’m here.  And you can’t go anywhere, so you’re stuck with me.”

Icarus let out a feeble laugh and lifted his hands to cling to Hermes.  “Thank you,” he whispered, and Hermes just held on.

None of it mattered, not what Icarus had become, not where they were now, not what Helios had done.  Icarus had fallen, and Hermes, after all this time, was finally here to catch him.

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Mary RYT 200 Tibetan Buddhism Gryffindor Part-time witch, full-time novelist. Lover of words, planets, dragons, and mountains.

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