The Stone Queen – Jovee Winters

I was born. And I remembered this birth, for it was so lovely. I went from darkness into the light, and I was surrounded by faces that I knew loved me. My sisters. My mother. I would have a good life. I just knew it. I grew up in a tiny village surrounded by people who always commented on my and my sisters’ looks. We were different than the rest of them; we descended from the gods. My sisters had serpents for hair—and they envied me my dark, luscious curls—but our faces were lovely. Even in our youth, we were often told by everyone just how beautiful we were. And I grew up knowing that I must be beautiful, but my looks did not matter to me much. In truth, I far preferred my snow-white wings to my face. I was the only one of the three who had them, yet another reason my sisters should despise me, but they did not. I thought they sometimes felt sadness about me, as I was the only one of us three who was mortal.

They were not. It was that way sometimes when one was the child of a god. Not all of us would get to live forever, but that did not sadden me. One well-lived life was worth thousands. Because of my “affliction,” my sisters were actually much kinder to me than they might otherwise have been. They merely asked for rides, and I was happy to give them. My favorite part of my day was sailing above the waters of my homeland. I loved the water, and I had been called a fool for it, but the water loved me back. For every time I sailed above it, the waves seemed to sparkle a little brighter, and the surface became almost like glass, showing my reflection. I had high cheekbones, a cupid’s pout, a slightly pointed chin, and corkscrew curls in a shade of deep amber that sometimes glinted reddish-gold in the sunlight, and Mother had always said I was very pretty, which made me smile.

I was not vain, but I did think it was far better to be pretty as to not. People were kinder to you when you were. It was a truth I noted when I saw the one they called crone in my village as she walked to the market in the mornings. They were vile to her, cruel, and they did not try to hide their jeering from her either. It made me sad, because she was a kind woman, even if she wasn’t all that pleasing to the eye. My days were idyllic and easy. But then I turned twelve, and I was lonesome for company. The girls of my village did not like my sisters and me anymore. They called us names. Ugly names.

Vile names. Mother said it was jealousy that made them so cruel to us. Where once we’d been loved by both women and men, we had become despised by our own sex, and I could not understand why. I found that I far preferred the company of men. They were still kind to me, especially the boys, though Mother did not allow us to hang around them often. She worried overmuch, I thought. I saw the village boys mostly in the town square when I walked to Athena’s temple for worship. One in particular had a sweetness that seemed genuine and endearing. I aimed to meet him. I saw him every day at that hour, loitering upon the temple grounds.

He looked to be a poor boy. His clothes were often dirty and usually riddled with holes. That was why I’d brought my needle. I’d had to sneak it out of Mother’s things. I told her I was going to visit Athena’s temple, but I was not. I was a good girl, but I was also still just a child, and I grew weary of Mother’s rigid ways. Just once, I wished to be like the other daughters of my village and play—maybe even flirt—with a boy. Wouldn’t that be scandalous! Smiling softly to myself, I gently tucked my wings back and landed lithely upon the rocky soil of the holy temple grounds. Athena’s eternal fires burned a deep shade of emerald green in the bronze brazier. Olive trees with their twisted trunks and bountiful green leaves were in bloom all around me.

The air was redolent with the smells of sea salt, perfumed oils, and myrrh. The sky was a light shade of blue so pale it could nearly be colorless, and there were literally only two thin clouds in the sky. Stepping cautiously with my sandaled feet over the loose rocks of the shore, I made my way up the hill, bunching the fabric of my violet-hued tunic in my hands as I did so. My heart raced wildly, and my mouth felt terribly dry. Euryale, my eldest sister, commented on my appearance this morning. I was never dirty or lazy with my looks, but I had taken extra care to look nice. I’d pinned my curls back into a flowing wave and chosen my very best fabric to wrap myself in. I’d also worn my brass bracelets, gifts from Father, whom I’d never actually met in person, though Mother spoke of him endlessly and with much fondness. I wasn’t exactly sure why Mother and Father were no longer together, as it was quite evident even to my young mind that she loved him still. But something had happened that’d forced Mother to take my sisters and me from the island of Sarpedon mere days after my birth.

I often thought Euryale, being eldest, knew why, but if so, she’d never shared it with me and only grew strangely quiet before swiftly switching subjects. Anyway, I did not know Father, but he still wrote to us now and then and even, at times, sent marvelous gifts, like my bracelets. They jingled as I walked, sounding like a soft lullaby in the lush Mediterranean breeze. I was cresting the hill when I finally spotted the boy. He looked to be not much older than my own twelve years. Thirteen, maybe fourteen at most. He had brown hair and piercing brown eyes, which seemed ridiculous to say since most brown eyes tended to be bland and average at best. But his would turn a shade of glittering bronze when the sun struck them. And though his face was dirt smudged, he had quite a nice one. Strong of jaw, even now, with a slightly long nose and wide mouth that he would no doubt grow into when he got older.

His olive-toned skin glistened with sweat from the already sticky humidity of the day and made me think of a shade between gold and bronze. With my pulse pounding furiously in the side of my neck, I made a point of looking back at him this morning. I was the only one in the village who had wings, and I was almost certain that was why he’d noticed me. I did not try to hide my wings. Usually, I would ignore his penetrating probe but not today. Today I fixed a smile upon my face, ignored the wild beating of my heart, and marched straight toward him. He was gape-jawed, staring at me in what appeared to be wonder and incredulity. I stopped when I was but mere inches from him. Though he was still covered in soot and ashes, he did not smell dirty but of wildflowers. It was lovely.

“Hello, boy,” I said raising my chin and looking him in the eye. “I am Medusa. Who are you?” He blinked, glanced both ways, then lightly snickered as he said, “In all my days, I never imagined you’d actually decide to notice me.” I grinned. “And why is that?” “Because you are you and I am me.” He shrugged. “You mean, I am rich and you are poor.” His brows lifted a little. “That. And more.

You are also very pretty, and I am a gangly boy of fourteen with nothing to offer you.” He spoke as though I’d asked him to become my betrothed. He was a ridiculous boy. Humor pulsed through me, and I liked him even more. He was like no one I’d ever known before, which made him a rare treasure. I felt my smile growing wider. “But you do have something to offer.” He was leaning with his ankles crossed against the side of the temple and gave me a thin-lipped and wary look. “And that is?” His voice rang with hesitancy. Looking around us, I noted the curious glances of the villagers passing by.

The boy wasn’t exactly a pariah, but everyone in the village knew he had no family. He was a street urchin, begging for handouts more often as not and working odd jobs here and there, whatever could earn him a little coin. But I’d seen him filch a pomegranate once when the fruit vendor wasn’t looking. “Your hand and your name,” I finally said. It was his turn to chuckle. He pushed away from the wall with his shoulder. “That, at least, I can offer enthusiastically.” Holding out his hand toward me, he said, “I am called Perseus, but you may call me Percy. All my friends do.” I was sure my smile had reached my eyes.

A dazed look passed over his handsome face, and in a bewildered-sounding voice, he said, “Gods, you have an incredible smile.” He gave himself a swift shake and shook his head, almost as though he wasn’t sure why he’d said that aloud. I pretended not to notice his bashfulness and took his hand. His fingers were long and very warm, and my palm tingled at their touch. His was the first male hand I’d ever known. “You will be my friend, Percy. And because we are friends, I have brought my mother’s sewing needle to repair the holes in your chiton. Because that’s what friends do. So sit and look pretty and do not fidget,” I commanded with an imperious finger point at the ground. He looked flummoxed at first by my bossiness, but after less than a minute, he gave a hearty laugh and plopped upon the ground, crisscrossing his legs.

“Yes, ma’am!” I laughed, and it felt wonderful. I had a friend. My very first friend—Perseus. And I just knew that he and I were destined to be friends forever. CHAPTER 2 MEDUSA “I am hungry!” Perseus growled the next week, kicking at a rock with his unsandaled foot and sending it skittering along the sea’s surface a moment before it finally sank beneath its waves. I glanced at him and pursed my lips. We’d spent every day together, as much time as we possibly could. Mother loved how attentive I was being to the goddess, and I loved the fact that neither she nor my nosy sisters questioned why I’d suddenly become so much more religious in recent days. “Percy,” I said softly. We continued to stroll idly along the rocky beach, hand in hand.

He said it was so that I would not take a fall, which, I’d explained quite patiently, was impossible considering I had wings and all, but he would not take no for an answer. He was positively protective of me. I rather liked having a friend. “Hmm,” he muttered with a scowl upon his face before kicking at a rock with the toe of his shoe. I flashed him a quick smile as I watched that thing bounce once, twice, before landing with a splash into the water and sinking quickly away from sight. “How many days has it been since you’ve eaten?” We stopped walking, and a pained look crossed his face. A shyness crept around his eyes, and his lips thinned to near nonexistence. “Percy, spit it out,” I commanded when I realized my friend was clamming up on me. His shoulders slumped. “Four days.

I thought I’d caught a rat in my trap the other night, but the bloody thing had chewed right through the snare and ran off to freedom. I’ve had no jobs since, and my stomach is so empty I feel like howling.” Finally dropping my hand, he grabbed hold of his stomach and turned fully toward the rolling waters of the crystal-blue seas. The air smelled of brine and roasted octopus, the scent coming in from the bluffs above us, where someone was making their dinner. Even my own tummy grumbled at the delicious scent, and I’d eaten quite well this morning. “Why would he do this to me?” Perseus asked softly. My brows dropped, and I glanced side-eyed at my friend. His face was pensive, his eyes shaded through with pain so sharp it cut straight through me like a fine knife. “Why would who do what to you?” I gently laid my hand upon his shoulder blade. He twitched before heaving a long and weary sigh and looking back at me.

The haunted look was gone, but the pain remained. “My father. All but abandoned me in this world of mortals.” I gasped. “You are the child of a god too?” I couldn’t begin to explain the joy that suddenly burst through me at the thought that my sisters and I were not alone in this place. The idea that there could possibly be others who understood the inherent privilege and curse of being bred of the gods was both exciting and overwhelming. I shook my head. “You never told me you were a demigod! Are you even mortal, then?” His lip curled up in a snarl. “Very.” Not at all liking the way that had sounded, I gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze, trying as best I could to comfort him.

“Hey, it’s okay. Not all of us are immortals. I’m mortal too.” He reached up quickly, snatched my fingers in his, and held onto me tight—a little too tight, actually, cutting off some of my circulation. I wiggled my fingers to let him know his grip pinched. Clearly realizing what he’d done, he quickly released me and gave his head a swift shake. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me. I think it’s the hunger causes me to grow irrational. Accept my apology.

” The squeeze already long forgotten, I shrugged. “For what? You’ve done nothing wrong. You are my friend, and it wounds me to see you hurting so. I… I cannot offer you much, but I can at least take away your hunger. Wait a moment.” Holding up a finger in a silent gesture that he should wait right there, I then began rucking up my skirts. Confusion had stamped itself upon his features. “What are you do—” Snapping my wings out with such force that I’d created a small wind funnel, I grinned at him. “Wait, just wait, my friend.” After tucking in my skirts so that now I wore less of a dress and had more of a trousered look, I toed off my sandals then slipped my curls free of their pins.

My brown locks tumbled like a nest of writhing snakes down my back. He grinned. “What are you going on about, mad woman?” Again, I only smiled wider. “Will you just wait, you impatient oaf? Let me show off a little first, eh?” Then giving him an exaggerated wink, I kept to the sandy bits of the shore and took a running leap. The instant I felt the cross breeze, my wings lifted me off the ground. I sailed above him like a mighty winged seraph ready to do battle, except in this case, my prey were the dozens of zipping silvery fish down below. With two massive beats of my wings, I spotted a school of fish a few dozen yards away. Speeding toward them, I gained momentum, making sure to not in any way disturb the waters or the fish. If they sensed my coming, they would scatter like pins. Only once I was in the kill zone did I tuck my wings in, and like a star shooting to the ground, I carved through the glassy surface of the sea like one of Zeus’s mighty bolts.

The fish scattered instantly but not before I’d managed to catch three fat ones. They writhed and wriggled in my hold, but I used my modified talons to secure them to me. When I exited the water, I was a drenched, sodden mess. Trying to explain this to Mother would not be easy, but the look on Percy’s face when I landed was well worth the scolding I was sure to receive. Percy ran toward me and suddenly scooped me up, just as I had the fish, and twirled me around, shouting with glee. Thankfully, we were quite alone, so no one could notice us acting like children. We were young adults now, and flapping our arms and squawking and squealing as we were would be frowned upon, but it felt so good to be free. I laughed, feeling lighter than one of my feathers. I’d never felt a full-body roll of laughter before, and I marveled at the sensations it brought —pain in my middle from clenching my stomach so hard, breathlessness from being unable to take a breath, and pure, unadulterated joy. I swore that even the sun grew brighter as it beat down upon us.

“You were amazing, Medusa!” Perseus heaped praise after praise upon me. “My gods, the way you sliced through that water, I’d have thought for certain that you were a siren come up from the depths. I never knew birds could swim as gracefully as you.” I beamed, so stupidly proud of myself for doing something I’d done a thousand times before knowing him. But no one had ever made me feel as though I’d accomplished some wild feat of athleticism. The fish had long since flopped to the ground, thanks to Percy’s exuberant show of gratitude. After scooping them up, I handed them to him, and then clapped my hands together as though dusting them off. “There, my friend. Now your tummy shall never go hungry again.” He took them from me with a grateful smile.

“Stay. Eat some with me. After all, it was you who saved me from a fate worse than death.” I rolled my eyes theatrically. “Gods above, you’re a dramatic one, aren’t you? And yes, I’d be delighted to share with you. Start the fire. I’ll gather a few things as you do.” Unfurling my wings once more, I took to the skies. The swiftly moving breezes helped dry me off a little. I smelled of sea salt and muck, but it had been so worth it to see my friend so joyful.

Winging toward my home, I made sure to remain above the clouds so that neither Mother nor my sisters would catch me. Only once I was certain that none of them were home did I quickly ease into the house and grab the jar of salt, dried herbs, and a small jar of freshly squeezed olive oil and leave. None would be the wiser that I’d been there and not at the temple. I also plucked a handful of ripened olives from the tree outside our door. Then I quickly made haste back toward Percy’s makeshift camp. He was there and had already gutted and descaled the fish. They were skewered through with a stick that he was slowly turning over the open flame. “I brought provisions,” I chirped, holding up my finds. He grinned back and quickly added seasonings to our late lunch. Once the fish was done, we sat side by side, eating and tossing the fish bones into the sea.

My mouth was slick with oils and the tang of lemon and salt. I licked my lips once more and sighed. “Does your mother honestly believe you’re at temple this long?” Percy asked softly sometime later. I enjoyed the sensation of the wind riffling through my long nest of now- matted curls. “In her day, she was quite devoted to the goddess, and she always hoped that one of us girls would be too. Though I’ve never really understood why. It isn’t necessarily customary for gods to worship other gods, but Mother has been insistent that one of us should become a devotee. But my sisters are immortal and don’t really feel the need to worship any of the gods. Way they see it, they’re practically gods themselves. So the onus fell squarely upon my shoulders to be the savior of this family.

” I chuckled, remembering the late chats with Mother, the promises and the vows she would force us girls to make to her. All of her ridiculous rules still seemed absurd. Never be alone with a boy. Never look too long at strangers. Never sing. On and on and on the rules went. I’d broken every one of them in recent days and hadn’t been struck down yet. I snorted and adjusted one of my pleats. The fabric of my tunic was stiff from all the salt it had absorbed. Hopefully, Mother and my sisters wouldn’t be home when I finally got back.

I felt Percy looking at me. Raising a brow in question, I turned to look at him. “Doesn’t that bother you?” It took me a moment to understand what he meant. “What? That my sisters will linger on forever whilst I eventually die?” He dipped his head, and I shrugged. “Not especially. Almost everything dies. Why should I be any different?”


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