I lifted the bronze ring and let it fall with a crash against the door to Dawn’s cave.
“C’mon Dawn. You better be home, or else.”
I tapped my foot against the stone ground and resisted the urge to look over my shoulder. If he had wanted to follow me, he would have caught up with me by the time I’d arrived at Dawn’s dwelling. His continued absence probably meant he was willing to honor my wishes.
The heavy stone door swung open and Dawn peered out.
“Amarantha. Come in.”
I breathed out a sigh of relief when the door slid shut behind us. Even Death couldn’t come into another god’s home without an explicit invitation. I kicked off my shoes and tucked them into the wooden cabinet behind the door.
The door onto a short tunnel that led into the gigantic cavern Dawn called home. Globes of golden magelight were embedded into the sandstone and alabaster walls. The top of the mountain had been sheared away by her brother at some point and sunlight flooded in through the glass ceiling. A waterfall flowed over the wall directly opposite the tunnel, functioning both as a decorative focal point and as a shower. Plants grew in profusion in gigantic planters inside the cave and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers and fruit. The ground was warm underfoot and I relaxed as the heat soaked into my bones.
Dawn took my hand and tugged me over to the polished tree root table. She pushed me down into one of the root tangle chairs before seating herself opposite me.
She poured me a cup of jasmine tea. “So. How did it go?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about Thanatos?”
My voice came out soft and strained and old. Startled, I took a deep breath and focused my thoughts. I couldn’t let this get to me or I’d sink into the past.
She sighed. “He just showed up at the last meeting. It wasn’t as if we could bar him from it. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think you would encounter him. He’s been almost impossible to find the last thousand years — I thought he’d continue the trend.”
I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the sympathy in her eyes. “It was such a shock to see him. And to have him see me like this.” A laugh escaped my throat, bitter and grating.
It was times like this when I wanted to curse, to shatter, to set something afire just so I could stop feeling impotent.
“Amarantha. Why don’t you just talk to him?”
“And speak of what? Our dead child? How I’m a shell of my former self? The impossibility of being married to someone who has to die every hundred years or so? What is there left to say?”
“Love?” Her quiet word fell into the silence between us.
I flinched back, incapable of hiding my reaction.
“He hasn’t had another in over a thousand years and neither have you. Eternity is too long to spend hiding from yourself, Amarantha.”
I swallowed hard and cut her off. “He won’t forgive me. I asked. First thing I did when I saw him.”
“Did he actually say so or did you assume?”
“He didn’t answer and the ambient temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. How’s that not answer enough?”
“Remember the chicken feather? Mikhail said that he’s claiming his place as your husband. Isn’t that promising despite all that he said and didn’t say?”
“And when did Mikhail say this?”
She waved her hand airily. “You know how useful email and Twitter is.”
I let my head fall back, the effort of holding it up suddenly too much to bear. “You know love isn’t always enough, Dawn.”
“No, I don’t.”
Her words snapped like a lash between us. I sat straight, surprised at her sudden show of temper.
She pinned me with amber eyes gone the color of flame. “I do not know that love isn’t always enough, Amarantha. He’s sulking and you’re hiding. You’re both allowing everything to speak instead of love. If you’re going to relegate love to last place in your priorities, you have no business claiming that it is failing you.”
Something broke in my mind. My heart shattered further. Against my will, my voice swelled into a shout: “I can’t force it, Dawn! I killed his child and I lost his wife. I’m not the goddess he fell in love and married anymore. I Fell and broke that promise to him on top of everything else. What am I supposed to do? Walk up to him and tell him that despite everything I did, I want us to be together? That I’m really sorry but he’s just going to have to cope with having a wife like this?”
“So you’re letting pride get in the way.”
I threw out my hands. “What pride? I apologized. I begged him to forgive me. I admitted that I should have waited for reinforcements. I said I was wrong ten million times over. What more can I do?”
“Have you asked him what else you could do? Or have you just been compounding your error by asking him for something he could not give and flouncing when he refused?”
I pressed a hand to my heart, fighting the urge to curl in on myself from the pain.
“Is that how you see it? Is that how he sees it?”
She reached for me and wrapped her hands around mine, chafing it between her own.
“Speaking of your marriage and your marriage only? Yes. You made a mistake and then you ran. You’re still running instead of fixing it.”
I tried to pull my hand away, but she held fast.
“Don’t turn away, Amarantha.”
“You never said anything. Have you all been thinking that this entire time? That I’ve been running away from my mistake instead of trying to fix it?”
“No. Not at all, dear heart. I would have said something earlier if I had.”
“Something caught my attention at the meeting.” She bit her lip. “‘If you’re looking for a savior of the world, then why look further than Amarantha? She may have failed our marriage, but no one can fault her devotion to this world.’ He said this when Anansi questioned his support for you.”
Ice lodged in my heart and clogged my throat. My eyes burned, but I had no tears left to weep. I’d done all the crying I could when I realized that my child was gone and my husband with her.
Dawn grasped my wrist and shook me. “Amarantha. Stop thinking about that part and think about the important bit. Listen. He didn’t say that you failed him. He said you failed your marriage. To me, that says it’s fixable. It’s now a matter of whether or not you want to.”
Hope bloomed for the merest second. Then I saw my hand, cradled in Dawn’s, and reality slapped me in the face. It was a fine enough hand for a woman of sixty years, unlined and soft. However, the thickened knuckles and prominent veins gave the game away.
“And for what prize?” I motioned to myself. “To saddle him with this?”
Her brows snapped together. “Do you really think that he’d care what flesh housed your spirit? If you’re going to be insulting, perhaps you’re right and you don’t deserve him and your happiness.”
I yanked at my hand and this time she let me free, her eyes dark with condemnation.
“No, Dawn, it’s not about the fact that I look like his grandmother. It’s about how I cannot give him children. It’s about how I don’t want to burden him with having a wife who has at most sixty years in which to be a wife every hundred or so years and who spends the rest a blubbering idiot because of first youth and then senility. It’s about how this flesh is too weak to support consummation with Death.”
I stopped to catch my breath. She reached for my hand again and I stood up, curling my hand to my chest.
“And as people forget, I’m only going to become weaker. Sooner or later, I will become just another human and what then? Don’t forget how we’ve never had a happy ending between a mortal and a deity.”
I shook my head. “Perhaps he will find another to love, in time.The sooner I release him from his vows, the faster that can happen. I need to go. I have to meet the boys.”
Her voice followed me even after I shifted, angry and anxious, reminding me once again why I chose to retreat these last few centuries. The less others saw of me, the less likely I would be to disappoint them.