Eos, lady of the dawn, opened her weary eyes to make way for the morning. The shroud of night fled from her gentle gaze, fleeing to the west, taking the last remnants of thick clouds in its haste to escape the coming day. The goddess stretched her rosy fingers across the great expanse of the sky, all the delicate colors of the morning making up her long, flowing dress.
Surging after her, bringing the rising sun in a blazing chariot, was Helios and his fiery steeds.
The son of the ancient Titans peered to the lands of Hellas, home to the many city-states of the Hellenes. Normally his far-seeing gaze would take in all that the rays of the sun touched, but this day marked the end of Winter, and the changing of the seasons began in one place: Arcadia, a land of wide pastures and forests. In fact, all of the gods, even the shining Olympians, cast their eyes down on the mortal world, fixating on a particular grove of thick trees.
Unable to withstand the warm rays of the newly born sun, the mists began to evaporate, leaving only wispy trails and tiny droplets of water on the leaves of the trees and tall grasses. The air still carried a hint of Winter’s chill, crisp and cool, though its hold could not last long, as all things must pass.
Maidens whisked by dew-kissed blades of grass, laughing, goading one another to run faster. They raced deeper into the wood, the sheer fabric of their robes swishing and brushing against their skin, fluttering behind them.
“Quickly, or we’ll miss it!” one shouted, leaping over a fallen log.
“We won’t if you hurry!”
They laughed, playfully pulling one another’s robes or nudging to get ahead, as they competed for who would make it to the destination first. The coming of spring had not only the maidens but the very land itself in a lively mood, for it was the most joyous day of the year . . .
The day the goddess Persephone would return.
The giggling trio finally reached a clearing, where, all around, were other maidens, buzzing with excitement. They whispered and jested with one another, impatiently waiting. Each one was fair and lovely to behold, with bright eyes and sumptuous limbs. A fool would mistake them for mere mortal women, for even the way they moved gave them away, with an air of grace that was difficult for even the greatest kings and queens to achieve. Their youthful appearances masked their true age, for some were older than the trees that surrounded them or the streams that wound through the woodland grove. These maidens were nymphs, immortal caretakers of nature and her wonders.
Just as nature had endless variety, so too did the nymphs. There were those that tended to bees, those that floated among the clouds, raced with the winds, swam in the oceans and rivers, or even dwelled in the Underworld. The nymphs that sat with one another on the grassy knolls were all unique, with skin as white as milk to deep olive tones, hair of spun gold to dark shades of midnight, yet they all shared a common trait: the golden girdle that cinched around their waists, etched with interwoven strands of wheat. It was the mark of their mistress, whom they were waiting for.
At once, silence fell on the group, as all eyes looked to three figures emerging from the trees. The first two strode into the clearing on hooved feet– two mares, one with a chestnut coat and the other with a spotted gray. The branches were parted by human hands, revealing the horses’ full figures. They were, however, not horses, but centaurs. Their manes traveled up along the spine of their human-like torsos into a full cascade of hair, braided and adorned with golden silk threads. With their hands, the two centaurides (as the females of their kind are called) kept hold of the branches, and waited for the last to come into view.
The maidens all bowed their heads as the third figure glided into the clearing. It was the mistress of the grove, the goddess to whom they pledged their undying loyalty and servitude. The Mother of Grain, keeper of the land, one of the daughters of the mighty Titans of old.
The goddess towered over her waiting company, even over the two centaurides that parted the trees for her. Her golden eyes gleamed like sun-kissed wheat and drifted over the sight of the clearing. She stepped gracefully over the grass. Even with her immense height, she left no footsteps behind her, only the train of her yellow-gold veil that twinkled as if golden stars had been plucked from the heavens and woven into the silken material. Her white peplos, beautifully embroidered with depictions of herbs and wheat, billowed around her, appearing more like clouds dancing on her skin than mere fabric.
The crowd parted for her as she neared the edge of the clearing, before a cave covered in ivy. Two nymphs broke from the throng and approached their mistress, one holding a cornucopia of assorted fruits and herbs, the other a golden girdle, etched with flowers, bees, and interwoven leaves. They bowed their heads and softly murmured, “My Lady,” as they extended their boons.
Demeter gently took them both, a simple nod dismissing the nymphs, who swiftly returned to their original spots. A gentle hum of silence filled the air as the goddess and all of her attendants waited before the mouth of the cave.
Until, at last, peeking through the ivy, torches were seen in the black depths. Demeter remained composed, but the same could not be said for the others, who gasped and tried in vain to contain their glee.
The light of the torches bobbed up and down, growing closer. Just before reaching the cave’s entrance, they stopped, save one, which continued alone. From the darkness, a white hand emerged, slender fingers parting the ivy curtain.
Demeter smiled, a noticeable glow emanating from her as she beheld the newcomer. “Welcome back, my sweet.”
As mother and daughter were reunited, the clearing roared with cheers and applause as the maidens hugged one another and shouted with pure joy. It could be heard all throughout the grove, and out into the large meadow that surrounded it. On the far outskirts of the meadow stood a cliff, near-vertical, tall enough to survey the rolling hills and clusters of forests that made up the Arcadian landscape. At the top of the cliff stood a curious creature. His bearing was that of a man, save for his lower half, which was that of a goat. He stood on his cloven feet, hearing the merriment that, now muffled, still reached his keen ears.
It was the signal the satyr was waiting for. Hanging from his shoulder was a leather sling carrying a carved horn hewn from oak. He raised the horn to his lips, took a deep breath, and blew. The deep, resonating bellow carried out in all directions, signaling the official return of Spring.
Some distance away, napping beneath the shade of a young tree, the sound of the horn awoke another satyr.
His sleepy eyes stirred before opening, blinking away the remnants of a hazy dream. Even if he wanted to lament it, the dream was fading fast, fluttering away with the passing breeze.
Before he could wonder what it was that awoke him at such an early hour, he heard another shrill of the horn. Now he knew the culprit. The young satyr groaned as he lazily rose, using his arms to push himself off the woven blanket he had been resting on. He yawned, bending over to scratch his fur-covered ankle.
It was much too early for anyone to be yelling, especially his name.
Lysandros rubbed his eyes, then squinted as his vision made out two brown blurs sprinting through the greenery. Already knowing who it was, he sighed deeply, mentally preparing for the worst.
“Ly! Ly, Ly wake up!” one of the blurs shouted, fast approaching.
“I am awake,” he bit out through his teeth. “What do you want?”
He glared up at two other satyrs that skidded to a halt near his napping spot. The closest one, with a pair of short spiked horns protruding from his messy light brown hair, held out a hand to help Lysandros up to his hooves.
“It is the first day of Spring. Are you going to sleep right through it?”
Lysandros paused. “Is that today?” He looked around him, noting the vibrancy of the trees with their newly donned leaves and the cheerful chitter of birds. The land itself was awakening, coming to life after a cruel winter, a clear sign that Lady Demeter and Persephone were reunited.
His friend grinned down at him, his gray eyes dancing with mischief. “We don’t have much time if you want to help us out. So get up!”
Lysandros groaned as he was pulled up. He didn’t want to do anything but get a few more hours rest, but that now seemed impossible. “Help with what?”
“With seeing the anthousai bloom, of course!”
That woke him up. Lysandros stared at the two with wide eyes, then threw his arms up in the air in exasperation. His hands covered his face as he let out a frustrated sigh.
It was much too early for all of this.
“Not again.” Lysandros looked to the other, who had dark hair with wavy, slightly curved horns. “Thales, you letting Philon talk you into this?”
Thales nodded enthusiastically with a bright smile on his face. “Ly, you and I both know it will be worth it!”
“No! No, it won’t be!” Lysandros pointed a stern finger at Philon, then poked his chest with every word he said. “It’s not worth being trampled by furious centaurs!”
“Ow ow!” Philon shoved his friend’s hand away, rubbing his open chest where Lysandros poked him.
“Last year you said you would give up!”
“I changed my mind. No matter what you say, Ly, Thales and I are going. The question is . . .” Philon leaned forward, a sly grin curving his mouth, “aren’t you the least bit curious?”
There was silence, revealing (even to himself) that there was a part of him that was indeed piqued with a hint of curiosity.
But rationality took over and Lysandros shoved those prodding thoughts down. He shook his head, taking a step away from his all-too-eager friends.
“You both know the penalty if you get caught in Lady Demeter’s Sacred Grove.”
“We have that figured out,” Thales said. “Listen here . . .”He wrapped his arm around Lysandros’s shoulders as he and Philon ushered their reluctant victim down the path.
“Everyone, all the nymphs, centaurs, and even Lady Demeter herself, is too busy welcoming back Lady Persephone to notice two, or three–” he rubbed Lysandros’s curly brown hair- “humble satyrs sneak their way in for a quick little peek.”
Lysandros frowned at the insinuation that he would join them.
“Aaaaand . . .” Philon chimed in, “we asked Old Linos where he saw the anthousai bloom, and he said it is on the eastern side of the grove. All the festivities are happening on the western side. It’s the perfect time to go!”
“But we have to hurry! Time is running out. Some of them might be blooming as we speak!”
The three made it to the cliff’s edge. Lysandros freed himself from Thales’s grip and fixed his own hair.
“You two have a death wish. I do not, I’m not going!” he exclaimed.
Thales and Philon both clasped their hands together to start pleading, but Lysandros interrupted them.
“None of that. It no longer works on me. Not since what happened with the naiads.” After so many years, the memory of nearly drowning was all too vivid. Since then, he had been wary of deep pools and rivers, and avoided the ocean altogether.
Both of them gave up, their hands dropping to their sides in defeat. Until Philon, with that devious mind and smile to match, decided to try one last thing.
“Very well,” Philon sighed, feigning acceptance of his friend’s decision. “You don’t have to go into the grove with us . . . All I ask is that you keep watch at the border, and let us know if anyone comes.”
The suggestion gave Lysandros pause.
“You . . . You both shouldn’t go in the first place,” Lysandros argued. “It’s forbidden to any man. Old Linos himself paid the price for going.”
“Yes it’s risky–” Philon began.
“But it’s worth the risk, Ly. What Linos saw, how he described it . . . I have to see the anthousai bloom. I have to!”
Lysandros opened his mouth to argue further, but stopped himself when he saw that look in their eyes. Stubbornness and determination–a dangerous combination.
It was the same look he had seen many times before. Philon and Thales were both reckless. They turned into complete fools whenever it came to nymphs, and their idiotic antics to win the maidens’ favor forced Lysandros to intervene to save his friends from humiliation–even danger– on more occasions than he liked to recount. But he did care for them. The thought of them having their legs trampled by angry centaurides sent a painful twinge into his gut. He also knew anything he would say could not deter them from their goal.
After mulling over all the possible scenarios that could happen, Lysandros threw his head back, said a quick prayer asking for mercy from the gods, and returned his gaze to Thales and Philon.
“. . . I’ll do it.”
The two cheered, embracing Lysandros and singing praises in his name. Then Philon broke away, happily breaking into a run toward the cliff’s edge.
“Then let’s waste no more time!”
He leapt over the edge, laughing, his form disappearing as he plummeted down. Thales followed suit, beckoning Lysandros, who was already regretting his decision, to follow.
“To the anthousai!” Thales shouted as he leapt.
Lysandros shook his head. He took a deep breath.
Then he took the plunge.