Before dawn the day of the full moon
Thalassai floated in a small boat among fragrant lilies. She reached out to touch one of the delicate white blossoms and saw the reflection of her face on the mirror-like water of the pond. One strand of hair had escaped her braid. She pushed it back, then trailed slender fingers through the sun-warmed water. The ripples grew, and the pond became a river. Water tumbled around a rock, making the boat bounce. She grabbed for the gunwale and could not reach it. The boat tilted sideways, threatening to throw her into the now-rushing river. Water poured over her face, filling her nose and choking her. She awoke.
“Diakonia, I just had the worst dream,” she said to her maid as she opened her eyes. Darkness pressed down on her.
Thalassai pinched her eyes closed. She must still be dreaming. The lamp could not have gone out. She counted to five, extending one tight finger after another, working to control the panic that crept into her throat. “The lamp is burning, and Diakonia is still sleeping,” she whispered. She opened her eyes. Darkness enveloped her like a blanket. She raised her hand to her face to push the dark away. She struggled to breathe.
“Diakonia, the oil,” Thalassai whispered. “You let it run out. Come!” There was no answer from her maid. She moved to sit up, and her head swirled. Thalassai lay back and waited for the spinning to stop. Her chest heaved as she drew quick breaths. Too quick. She would faint if she kept this up. She strained to see the shape of the lamp, the chest by the wall of her room, something. “Diakonia,” she called, trying to push her voice through the impenetrable darkness.
Thalassai told herself she was too old for this, that the darkness would not smother her. She tried to draw in air slowly, but her throat seized. She needed help just as she had when she was small. She could recite the litany her nurse had taught her so many years before to calm her fear. She did not need to panic.
“With each breath in, I lift the night away with my chest. Now, I blow the darkness away with my breath.” Thalassai felt tears running across her temples. “Again, I push the dark away with my chest, then with my outgoing breath.” She forced herself to continue. “The dark will not smother me. I will breathe in and with the air; I take in a piece of darkness and make it part of me.”
Thalassai did not want the darkness inside of her. She held her breath. Nurse used to remind her that she could not do that for long. Soon, she would have to breathe, let in the dark. “I am an adult now. I am not afraid of the dark,” she whispered. She did not believe her own words.
“So taste the dark; see what it teaches you.” It was her brother Melanion, who had told her that. Her brother always told her she was stronger than she thought.
More tears fell, wetting her cheeks. She opened her mouth to taste the air. There was a hint of salt, like the sea she was named after, but this salt came from her fear-filled tears. “That did not help,” she whispered to her brother who was not there. “I already knew I was afraid.”
Melanion would laugh if she said that. He would tell her a story about something fearful he had faced. “Even you, Thalassai, facing such a moment, you would discover strength and courage,” he had said so many times. Thalassai held on to the picture of her brother laughing beside her bed. She would be strong. She would figure out what had gone wrong with the lamp. She pulled herself to a sitting position and curled her legs beneath her.
Little lights swirled in front of her eyes. Her head spun, and the bed seemed to move up and down like the boat in the dream. She put her hands down to steady herself and pulled them back as if they burned. This could not be. These were not the silken sheets of her bed! She reached down with her right hand. The bed linens were rough like the ones on the ship when she traveled with her father to visit Athens and Corinth. But she was in the palace at Tiryns, wasn’t she?
“Diakonia,” she whispered, though she knew now that her maid could not hear her. She placed her hands on her lap so she would not have to feel the bedclothes, but she could not escape the gentle up and down, the rocking motion of a ship at anchor. How had she gotten onto a boat?
Thalassai struggled to remember. The splash of river water and the fragrant lilies had been part of the dream. Scented flowers! She had been in the rose garden with Diakonia. She remembered that the visiting prince, Aphoron he was called, had met her there with his servants.
From his first bow, this prince from the distant northern city of Ephyra had openly admired her. He had so disturbed her that she avoided him at the welcome feast, and her father chided her, reminding her of the duty of a princess to host their guests. Because of that lecture, when she met Aphoron in the garden, she agreed to let his party walk with her, though she kept Diakonia between herself and the strangers.
Thalassai dimly heard a voice, muffled by the darkness and perhaps a closed door. The bed jerked forward. Her head swirled again, and she put her fingers on her temples, trying to concentrate. The bed stopped, then jumped again.
Rowing! That was the jerking motion. Rowers were starting their day’s work. Because of the danger of rocks near the shore, ships did not move in the dark of night, so somewhere outside light was coming to the sky. Out there, the sun was rising while darkness trapped her on an unknown ship. Her hands started to shake, and she held them together. She was afraid of more than the darkness now.