Denise wrote that early posts would be appreciated so I decided to oblige!
Besides, I have missed the world of the Caretaker whom we last saw in the HERO LOST anthology.
So without further ado,
let us re-enter the House Eternal
The House Eternal.
The truth of its birth whispers from the dark unknown. I am its Caretaker. My beginnings burn under the starlight of dim memories. My end is unknown yet certain in its ugliness. I hasten it by meddling where saner souls would wisely pass.
Above the oak front door, the spider web, spun from the sobs of children, trembled in anticipation. Arachne studied me from its glistening center. Human/not human, she smiled with green lips still wet from adorning her silken snare with venom.
“Athena wronged you, but taking it out on innocents is misplaced vengeance.”
Arachne’s words were flutters of papyrus, “Dry and dead is the wind that last tasted innocence.”
Mouse, riding in my chest pocket, wrinkled his whiskers like angry broom straws. “All things truly wicked started out innocent.”
Mouse. He owed his freedom to Napoleon’s soldiers. The gust of bacterial air which breathed from the First Dynasty tomb they ransacked gave them the freedom of death.
Was Mouse a ghost rodent or had the bacteria-infested air of the tomb changed him somehow?
Arachne’s laughter was more sleet than sound. “The world must have been born innocent indeed.”
I said. “It takes a very long time to become young.”
The front door, Artemis’s gift to me, throbbed with tears of dawn. I snorted. Athena was much too Olympian to merely knock.
I smiled. Artemis’ tongue might be as sharp as her arrows, but her word was as sure as her aim. Artemis usually beat me at chess. But last night, I could not allow her to win, for I fought for another. And so, she had brought Athena to me.
A man-shaped shadow appeared. Once he had been a solid man … before he doubted. He flowed to my side.
“I thought I had a death wish, Einherjar.”
“Thomas,” I said. “all in the House Eternal are my charges. I will see to them or die.”
Mouse chirped, “I vote for a greater margin of error.”
I patted his head. “I give you leave to flee to the shadows, little friend.”
Mouse’s eyes deepened. “You may not remember the time you first fed me. Or the time you first scooped me up into the safety of your shirt pocket. Or the time you waited at the crossroads for me to catch up. But I do, and the end of your skein of days shall be mine.”
Thomas rumbled, “So say I.”
I frowned, and Thomas shrugged, “I said I had a death wish, did I not?”
Arachne murmured, “I am not worth the fate Athena will grant thee.”
I could almost see the beautiful woman she once had been in her many-eyed face. “I am your friend.”
“And if I do not wish thy friendship?”
“I will try to be discreet.”
This time her laughter was more summer rain than sleet but still it was chill. The door was hot sunset now. I must time this just right. As Caretaker, I was pledged to greet visitors for Grande Dame.
Was She Avatar of the House Eternal or merely its first resident? Most of the House was complete, She tells me, when the first stars began to coalesce into the Light that caressed the awakening planet.
It could be. I was not there. I am old, just not that old.
She was not alive as one thinks of life. Nor was She eternally dead. Life, Death – they were but trifles to Her as She insisted on having Her way with each new-born day.
Grande Dame also insisted upon respect from those who came calling. Athena refusing to knock would not be appreciated. I had a moment more that I could safely wait to respond.
Tragic Athena. She could have easily forgiven Arachne’s pride, if it had not also mortified her own. Olympians find it easier to forgive mortals when they are wrong than when they are right.
Another heartbeat more, and I would have to answer. And my gambit would die still-born.
After centuries of dealing with those who wander eternity, I should have remembered that they are long on hate but short on patience. The oak door simply vanished. No flash of lightning, no thunder. True power is like that.
The dying twilight revealed eyes filled with razors. Athena. Imagining her museum statues and carvings? They are not even in the same dimension with the terrible majesty looming in the doorway. Artemis stood bored beside her. No hunt that did not smear her arrows with the blood of prey interested her.
I wondered if she would mourn me.
“I have to ….” I started.
“Die,” Athena murmured, suddenly right before me.
I shook my head. “You entered unbidden and thus must abide by the House Rules. I was going to warn you.”
Athena spun to Artemis. “You tricked me!”
Moonlight caressed the Huntress’s long hair in glints of cold fire. “Nay. I but mentioned Arachne’s fine weaving of old. It was you who wondered where she might be these long centuries later.”
Shoulders the white of mountain peaks shrugged. “You asked. I answered. It was your idea to come, laughing about a fine reunion of enemies.”
Athena turned to me. “These House Rules?”
“Are many … one is that those who enter unbidden must leave behind them whatever the Caretaker chooses.”
I smiled like an Einherjar. “I chose your hate. See it yonder on the marble porch?”
Incanting dark spells, Athena turned to see the floating green cloak of thorns, most of which turned inwards. Wet Olympian blood still gleamed on their points.
“Hate always hurts the one who wears it.”
Arachne gasped as once more she stood in human form, though her gown now was clinging spider-silk. Her beauty breathed of sunshine and honey. I suspect that long ago, Athena envied more than her weaving skills.
Athena’s inhuman face lengthened. “And should I step back onto the porch?”
Mouse chirped, “You cannot, Great One. Those who enter unbidden must stay the night.”
Athena breathed icily. “But come morn, should I embrace it?”
“You would find it gone,” I said. “Hate left untended dissipates.”
Teeth like flint daggers flashed. “You think yourself clever, Caretaker? You are nothing. Nothing!”
“I am loyal. I have done my duty to one guest. Now, I must put Grande Dame to bed.”
Thomas rumbled, “One night, you will not return.”
From the attic whose walls were not walls, Grande Dame’s yawn stirred the ancient air.
“I am beckoned. Honor would have me go.”.
Athena’s laughter swirled behind me like graveyard blossoms.
I turned, climbing the steps with Mouse shivering in my shirt pocket. I gently tapped his head. In the end, it is our hearts that prove our undoing.