Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Maizie Ferguson! Maizie finished 6th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “The Year of the Four.”  Maizie said, “Throughout the writing process, I have come to love all of the characters in the story. I would have to say that my favorite is Joan. I was able to include some of my personality into her character. I also really enjoyed the process of melding the two worlds of fiction and mythology.”  Enjoy!


 

PROLOGUE

Saphora hurried down the hallway in anticipation. The day had come; the day she had worked hundreds and hundreds of years to make happen. Finally, the four of the legend had been located and she knew where they were. As she rounded a corner, she almost ran straight into Azania, her longtime servant and confidant.

“I have found them,” she cried gleefully. “The four demigods of legend!”

Azania asked, “The powerful ones who will save Olympus?”

“Yes,” she said. Slowing her heart rate down to its normal rhythm, she thought of the individuals who could find the demigods and bring them to her to be trained by the Greek gods and goddesses. With a deep breath of expectancy, Saphora thought of how much was at stake. Now that the enemies of the Greek deities were getting stronger, she needed the right people to guide the special ones to her realm. The demigods would have to be willing to be trained, as well. They had to be trained. Just at that moment, Ehsith, her guard, and fellow immortal came in with a message. It read: I should be happy to help you with your task. Saphora recognized the scribbled signature immediately: Sadie.

“Yes!” Saphora thought. “With her elf-like features, Sadie will easily pass for a young mortal. The dryad will be perfect for retrieving the four and bringing them to safety. As the four are powerful but untrained, the enemies of the Greek gods will soon be after them. Sadie will know which magically forged weapons will be fit for their defense. They will need protection,” she thought.

“Tell Sadie, yes, and to start right away,” Saphora told Ehsith. “They have to be here by tomorrow.”

 

THE CONVERGENCE

The noontime sun, golden and fiery, beat down as Ehsith came over the far hill. Saphora had sent him to meet Sadie and assist in bringing the four to safety. Saphora knew that Sadie, being a dryad, would be growing weak, as she had been away from her bonded tree for so long. One of Saphora’s strengths was her ability to focus in or out at far distances.  From her perch on the palace balcony, she looked closely at Ehsith’s posture. His hands were clenched around his two staffs. Under his helmet, his unusually light eyes were darkened with determination. Saphora thought, no matter the task, he was always persistent. She first focused to the boy on his left. He had skin the color of cocoa, shaggy brown hair, huge chocolate eyes, and freckles. He was wearing a gray t-shirt and ripped jeans. In his left hand, he held a short-bladed bronze dagger, and on his right wrist, he wore a silver cuff band with metallic etchings around the edge.

Next, Saphora turned her head slightly so she could look at the girl to Ehsith’s right. She had a deep tan with a cute boyish haircut that framed her face. The girl had a thin mouth, and when she turned to say something to the other girl in the back, Saphora saw she had braces. She had big bright green eyes that looked almost like they were glowing. She was wearing a leather jacket, a green tank top that brought out her eyes, camouflage pants, and steel-tipped army boots. She had a silver sword attached to her belt and a quiver of arrows strapped to her back; the bow loosely hung around her neck like a necklace.

Once the girl turned again, Saphora saw that she was dragging a teenaged boy behind her. Now that she thought about it, it looked like all of them were teenagers. She knew that they were the right ones, but she worried, “What if they refuse?” She made herself focus back in.

As they rounded the far bend, Saphora looked more closely at the boy being dragged; he was pale and sandy-haired with freckles across his nose. His eyes were closed and in an instant, Saphora could tell he was unconscious. The girl was pulling his feet, which were outfitted in damaged loafers. He was wearing a faded green hoodie and jeans, with a golden knife strapped to his leg. There was a shield in his left hand that was resting on his chest and his right arm was dragging a wickedly sharp bronze sword, leaving a gash in the earth.

Ehsith and the group were getting closer, so Saphora focused on the last person.  She had blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair that cascaded down her back. Her hair was braided at random places and some flowers were even pinned here and there. A huge magnolia was tucked behind her ear. Slightly off-center in her left ear, she had a silver crescent moon earring with a single ruby embedded at the top. Saphora froze for a moment as she fingered her identical earring. Then curiously, she looked back at the girl. She wore a short dress in the ancient Greek style, leggings, and a spear engraved with a head of wheat. Saphora paused, wondering where she had seen that marking before. It looked familiar.

Once the group reached Saphora, Ehsith bowed.

“This is Saphora Miltiades, daughter of Miltiades III, who ruled Athens as its third ruler.” Then, he lifted the unconscious boy so he was in a sitting position. Ehsith knelt, “I present Ben Feronzess, son of Athena,” he said. He turned away and beckoned for the others to come forward.

The dark haired girl spoke first, “I am Joan Marshe, daughter of Apollo.” She said the word ‘Apollo’ stretched long with a noticeable disgust in her tone.

Fingering her earring, the next girl bowed. “My name is Olyve Atkins, I am a daughter of Demeter.”

Anxiously, Saphora thought, “Does Demeter have something to do with our matching earrings?”

The last boy stood and said in a loud voice, “Raphiell Demichi at your service, son of Hermes.”

Saphora then nodded toward where Sadie stood off to the side; this was a signal for her to return to her life-source tree to rejuvenate her strength. As dryads are stealth creatures, no one saw her leave.

Saphora thought, “If Sadie hadn’t come to my aid so quickly, my destiny, their destiny and the destiny of the world would forever be altered.” Her thoughts were interrupted by Ben, who just then opened his eyes and moaned. His eyes were puffy and an intense gray color, like a storm.

Joan turned her head and whispered, “Saphora, can you do something?” She was remembering how Ben got knocked out in the first place… and bit her lip to keep from giggling. After the group had been chased by ogres and were saved by Sadie inside a magic boundary, Raphiell had grabbed a large stick and had chased Ben like an ogre. Being much faster than Raphiell, Ben had started running backward to watch his chaser and tripped over a tree root and knocked himself out.

Just then, Olyve spoke. “I know I speak for all of us when I say this. Are we going to get an answer about why we are all here? We only know that we have been chosen for a quest. Can you explain Saphora, please?”

“You will know,” Saphora said. “ Stay here until I return.” And with that, she walked into the nearby woods. Her heart was beating faster and faster. Nervously, Saphora thought, “Now I know that this group is definitely the one of legend, but am I the best person to explain?”

A couple minutes later, she returned and with her came the most beautiful animal Raphiell had ever seen. It was a moss-colored mare with a mane and tail the color of sea glass. At first, he thought he might be hallucinating, but then he reminded himself, he’d seen stranger things. On the horse’s back sprouted a pair of huge feathery wings. It was a Pegasus! Ehsith placed Ben gingerly on its back as Saphora spoke gently, “The Pegasus and I will take you to my secret fortress. I know you want answers. Follow me and you will get them. First, rest, and then I will explain everything.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Saphora led them away, Joan felt a little homesick and kept thinking about how Thesario, the moss-colored Pegasus, reminded her so much of her Grandma’s butter-colored mare. The horses shared the most regal and expressive eyes. Saphora led them to the side of a large Greek marble palace. Ehsith grabbed the reins, helped Ben down, and led the Pegasus off to the stables. A huge doorway led them through a mosaic-filled corridor to a large open room with eight pieces of furniture. Four tables with jugs of water and loaves of bread were at either side of the room. A bed was situated to the side of each table.

Raphiell immediately walked out onto the terrace and looked out, and Olyve asked for permission to explore. Joan helped Ben over to one of the beds, tugged off his shoes, set down his weapons and heaved him onto the bed. Once Saphora left the room, Joan sighed. She wanted to discuss everything that had happened today, but Ben needed to rest. Joan asked Azania, the servant Saphora had assigned to the room, where she could bathe. In the meantime, she lay on the floor and tried to figure out the stories in the tiles. In one, a willow tree was transforming into a girl. It made Joan laugh. It reminded her of when she realized that Sadie hadn’t been joking when she had said she was a dryad.

Three days ago, Sadie had worked the ‘Veil’– the smoky shroud of magical energy that protected all magical things and made them seem normal in the human world– to make it seem like she was a regular Californian teenager. She had enrolled in the Ojai Valley Middle School and entered Mrs. Beecher’s eighth-grade class. Joan had hoped the girl would have special interests, like hers. She loved archery with all her heart and could recite lengthy passages of Homer’s The Iliad. She realized that those were the only things she had in common with Apollo, her father. Joan loved languages too and could read and speak Greek fluently. On the last day Joan had been in California, two days ago, Sadie had pulled Joan out of science and walked her to the gym.

“I have to show you this,” Sadie had said. “I am really a dryad, and I’ve got proof.” Then, she started to grow limbs and turn green. Joan had been horrified and had closed her eyes, hoping it was a dream. When she opened her eyes, a small willow tree stood in the middle of the gymnasium. The most disturbing thing of all was that Sadie was the tree, a tree that was intensely focusing on turning back into a human. Even more petrifying was the fact that Joan could hear giggles and whispers near the gym doors.

“Oh no!” she had thought, “I can’t let them see Sadie like this!”

“Hurry up,” she had whispered to the tree. “I believe you now.”

Sadie then whirled around and was transformed back into “human” form.

“You can follow me to the bathing room,” the servant Azania said. Only when she repeated herself for the second time did Joan snap back to reality. Smiling, she let herself be led out the door.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once everyone was washed up, Ehsith woke Ben and the demigods were called to the throne room. On the way there, the four walked with purpose. From the moment they were brought here, they had anticipated this moment. In the high-ceilinged room, four high-backed thrones were set up facing a low bench.

“Sit, please,” Saphora gestured to the chairs. Suddenly, she was bombarded with questions.

“Why are we here?” “How long do we have to stay?” “What are we supposed to do?” “Are we really going to save the world?” “Did you bring us here because we are demigods?” “Are you a demigod?”

Saphora now thought back to all her doubts about this plan working. She took a deep breath.

“There is a time for asking questions. But now, you just need to listen!” All four quieted down and Saphora began.

“I will explain it in the easiest way possible. This is about Athena and Demeter.”

Ben sucked in his breath and Olyve gave a shocked little gasp.

Saphora continued, “Although they are related, they have not been the best of friends. There is a quest that you need to complete together to heal their hearts. The source of their biggest argument is a pendant.”

At this Ben closed his eyes and wondered, “Why did I agree to come here?” He had thought it would be good to meet other kids who were ‘like him.’ He knew it was definitely not to go on a silly mission to get jewelry back for two primal goddesses, one of which was supposedly his mother.

Saphora pushed on. “This is not an ordinary piece of jewelry. It was forged by the ancient Cyclops out of the purest precious metals, water from the river Styx, and power from every major and minor Greek god and goddess. It was lost many, many years ago. This is significant, as it holds enough power to either save the world or destroy it. If it gets in the wrong hands, the world will be doomed,” she said as she shook her head. “Plus, that isn’t the only problem. Athena and Demeter both think they should be the rightful owner!

Also, there is something else the other gods think would cure this disdain that Athena and Demeter have for each other,” Saphora added. “Golden apples from Hera’s garden of the Hesperides. They grant immortality and create friendship and well-being.”

“Wait!” Joan objected. “Why do we have to get the apples? Why can’t the gods just give one to each of them?”

“Well,” Saphora answered, “Hera is not particularly fond of sharing with the other gods, so the gods must send heroes to get the apples for them.”

“How do you know all of this?” Ben asked, as he still was doubtful. “Do you know the gods?”

Saphora replied, “I know all this from researching the ancient myths and from communication with Olympus…”

“What’s Oh-limp-is?” Raphiell asked.

Joan quickly elbowed him and whispered, “It’s Olympus, you silly, and it’s the home of the gods! Don’t you know anything about Greek mythology?”

“Not much,” he whispered back.

Olyve, who had been quiet during the whole explanation, now asked the question everyone was thinking.

“Why were we chosen to do this job? We’re just teenage demigods who don’t know how to save the world and have no experience with fighting. If what you say is true and the pendant falls into the hands of the gods’ enemies, they could destroy the world!”

“You were chosen because you were foretold in legend!” Saphora excitedly explained. “The ‘Legend of the Foreseen’ tells about how four demigods of different origins, lives, and personalities — two boys and two girls — would cure Demeter and Athena’s hearts, acquire two apples of immortality, restore peace with the pendant, and virtually save the world! Also, the legend says that if the pendant is gained by the enemy, the Olympian gods will come to help them in their quest for peace.”

Ben gasped as the realization hit him and he spread his arms towards the other seated demigods. “We are the demigods spoken of in the ‘Legend of the Foreseen?’”

“Yes,”  Saphora told them. “And now, you are free to go anywhere inside the palace or outside in the gardens until tonight. For tonight, Athena and Demeter have agreed to come here to help explain.”

“Oh!” Olyve squealed with nervous anticipation. “I can’t wait to meet her!”

Joan hugged her. “I’m so happy for you!”

Ben smiled, silently thinking, “It will be wonderful to finally meet Athena.”

“Though,” Saphora said, “I really hope I can get them to be in the same room together. Their argument is getting out of hand.”  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After… Raphiell followed the guard, whom he now knew as Ehsith, down the length of the hall. It was almost sundown and he hadn’t seen his friends for several hours. They had much to discuss. It was hard to believe they were in California in an 85-acre vineyard protected by the “Veil.” He was relieved that they had been brought here. It felt good to be in fresh clothes. Raphiell had felt jumpy and skittish when they were first introduced to Saphora, but Ehsith had told him that she was only three years older than the quartet. She was seventeen; yet, immortal, born in the time when Athens was only with its third ruler. Ehsith himself was immortal, too, and had been working with Saphora’s family for generations. He had told Raphiell that he and his friends could trust them. Raphiell thought about what Saphora had said would happen to Olympus if it was defeated and destroyed. Planets would go out of orbit, the gods’ and goddesses’ powers would fade until they withered into nothingness, taking the gods’ forms with them. Much like dryads to a tree, the gods’ powers are linked to Olympus. Countries would fall, ecosystems would be lost, animals would become extinct, the whole world would die, and Raphiell didn’t like the sound of that.

When Ehsith finally brought Raphiell to the main hall of the fortress, he wasn’t surprised to see Olyve, Ben, Saphora, and Joan waiting for them. He had been walking around the palace gardens while they had stayed inside. Next, the group– two immortals, a half-blood nymph, and three demigods– entered the white corridor. As night quickly fell over the palace, there was a delicious scent of summer breeze and the quick, sharp odor of pine. Although it was dark outside, the interior of the fortress was illuminated in a hazy pink and gray light.

Saphora sighed heavily. “I hope that this castle is still standing by dawn.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Joan asked.

Ehsith answered, “Because right now, the next corridor is holding two forces who can destroy the continent in a matter of seconds.”

The group inhaled quickly… they all knew what this could mean.

Saphora breathed deeply and tried to stay cool, but on the inside, she was terrified. “What if things go wrong?” she worried.

As if on cue, one of the magnificently molded brass doors opened and out stepped a quite extraordinary-looking woman. She was taller than most mortals, slender and elegant. Though her face looked human, everyone knew she wasn’t. She smiled as a small barn owl swooped from the rafters above her head and landed gracefully on her arm.

Saphora spoke softly, “Athena, the Greek Goddess of Knowledge and Strategy, we greet you.” Athena then came to stand behind Ben and put her hand on his shoulder. Ben smiled, thinking about how even in that small gesture, Athena had said so many unspoken words.

A creak came from the opposite end of the hall and the other brass doors opened slightly. Knowing Demeter was behind them, Olyve ran over, slipped through the doors and they closed once again.

Raphiell, who had been speechless the whole time, only now dared to speak.

“Saphora, didn’t you say something about bringing Athena and Demeter into the same room?” He was hinting at something he hoped would be successful.

“Yes,” the young woman said. “Yes.”

A few minutes later, Olyve emerged from the far door and with her came her mother, Demeter.

The goddess spoke with an edge of animosity. “I shall try my best.”

“Of what, my dear aunt?” Athena asked, the same bitterness enveloping her.

“My best to remain civil and to not bring harm to this beautifully made replica of my temple that my daughter has carefully designed,” Demeter answered.

Saphora froze in shock. Things were starting to become clear. The matching earrings now made sense. It was all that she could do to stay focused. She was amazed. Demeter was her mother, and all this time she never knew. She had been raised by her mortal father, the third king of Athens, and by Ehsith when her father had perished. She had known that the four of legend would heal these two goddesses’ hearts, but not that Demeter was her mother!

Everyone was ushered into the throne room. It shone like high noon in the summer; light radiated from the goddesses. The four demigods sat on the low bench, while all the others each sat on a high-backed throne.

“Let us explain as much as we can as quickly as we can,” Athena said.

Demeter began, “Athena and I have been fighting about the pendant ever since it was lost while it was in Athena’s possession. We fought until the others could stand it no longer. At last, I went to live with my daughter, Persephone, in Hades’ realm. We are here together because you are from legend and will regain the pendant. We will only stay a short time, as Athena and I are still in disagreement. She is not willing to admit that I am the rightful owner of the precious pendant.”

“Demeter is stubborn,” Athena added.

Turning to her right, Saphora tentatively spoke from her chair near Athena, “Demeter, I mean, Mother?” Turning to her left, “Athena? Shall we speak of the convergence? The half-bloods are powerful and need to be trained. They will need to leave soon on their journey to retrieve what is most needed to heal your relationship and to protect the world as we know it.”

“Yes,” both goddesses said simultaneously in Greek.

Athena said, “Your training will begin tomorrow.”

“There is so much to do. Training, the quest, and resolution. An extraordinary year is in the making,” remarked Ehsith.

Boldly, Saphora rose from her chair

“As stated in legend, we are now in The Year of the Four.”

 

 


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