This story is by Zoe Condos and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Medea ran toward the meadow behind her parents’ cottage, tears streaming down her cheeks, the voice of one of her five brothers calling after her. She ignored him and collapsed onto the long, yellow-green grass, engulfed by the scent of wildflowers. Her shoulders shook and she cried unapologetically, as sorrow fueled her agony. It had been a particularly trying day with her sister Phoebe and Medea needed to release her emotions.
Her older sister, Phoebe, was the golden-haired beauty of the family with sapphire eyes and cherry-red lips, who feigned kindness for all while acting selfishly. Medea didn’t know why, but Phoebe seemed to despise her. Phoebe was sneaky and underhanded, deceiving Medea to get her into trouble or just to mess with her. The reasons were a mystery to Medea. Envy came to mind, but it couldn’t be looks as they had little resemblance. Medea had raven-black hair, a small pointy nose, and big hazel eyes.
Although pretty enough, Medea had little chance of escaping the peasant life unless she educated herself and tried her best in all manner of studies. Above all, she loved reading about the gods and titans, and she excelled in the study of herbal medicine. Phoebe, in contrast, firmly believed she was meant for a greater life than that of a peasant and relied on her beauty to soon bestow her a wealthy husband.
Today had been the worst day of all. Phoebe had found Medea’s diary and announced her innermost private thoughts for the entire world to hear. It was embarrassing and humiliating. Phoebe crossed the last boundary today; although family, Medea hated her sister, detested her with all her heart.
Slowly, Medea calmed herself by watching the azure sky. Salty tears dried on her cheeks when a small spider crawled on her hand, tickling her fingers. Instead of being afraid, Medea, who was curious about all creatures of the world, observed the spider wandering about her arm. A millipede appeared on her leg and other insects, beetles and worms found their way to her too. It was odd and she watched them curiously.
Suddenly she noticed the birds stopped singing and the skies darkened slowly. It was an omen; of that she was confident. The insects announced the arrival of a higher being.
As a mystical gray fog approached from the nearby forest, Medea stood and watched the change in her surroundings with trepidation. Out of nowhere, the goddess Hekate appeared in her human form only a few feet away from her.
Medea froze, but noticed the goddess’ black hair, much like her own, and her piercing golden eyes. She wore a long, sable robe and was accompanied by a pack of snarling black dogs. The hounds bared their teeth, saliva dripping on the grassy earth. Medea took a step back, hoping the dogs wouldn’t pounce.
As she glanced toward Hekate, the goddess quieted the dogs with a swish of her hand and Medea heard her speak in a low, gravelly voice.
“I have been watching you.”
Terror gripped her insides tightly and Medea turned to and fro to find her way home. Although a part of her was curious about Hekate, she also feared her. Backing away a few steps, Medea realized there was nowhere to go where the goddess couldn’t find her. The fog had obscured the nearby forest and the distant cottage so much, it was as if she were in a different world. Her skin prickled with dread, but she looked up at the goddess bravely, almost defiantly. She willed her mind to think clearly and not let panic envelope her completely.
Hekate somberly occupied the same place where she had first appeared, watching her. Medea felt compelled to approach, stand her ground, and face her. Hekate was not always a benevolent and kind-hearted goddess, yet she didn’t appear to be a devil in disguise either. As far as Medea remembered, Hekate’s powers transcended the boundaries of Sky, Earth, Seas, and the Underworld. She was a liminal goddess who could cross from the Underworld into the physical world with ease. It was common knowledge that Hekate also possessed the power of herbal magic and medicine.
Slowly, but with her head held high, Medea approached the patiently waiting goddess in her glory.
“Many years ago, you caught my attention child. During my many visits to Earth, I became aware of your problems. Even now your eyes are filled with hatred for your sister and your heart beats to the sound of your darkest wish.”
Medea’s eyes widened.
Why would the goddess be interested in a mere mortal like her? She knew of her wish. How could it be?
Hekate’s laughter echoed through the fog.
“You are surprised? Come now, I am omniscient as you well know. Your sorrows and tears have moved me. I am here to grant your wish.”
Mindful of containing her surprise to the goddess, Medea schooled her features yet, her mind scrambled with questions and possibilities. Was it true? The goddess wouldn’t lie to her, she was sure.
“Goddess, how do you plan to rid me of my sister?”
Hekate produced a small vial from inside her robe and held it out to Medea. Hesitatingly, Medea stepped forward and took the vial, turning it in her hand, scrutinizing the clear potion.
“Is it a poison goddess, or a spell?”
“It is poison little one. What do you offer me in exchange to fulfill your wish to be the sole daughter in your family?”
Hekate’s lips widened into a bright smile, encouraging Medea to speak. A vial of poison to kill her sister, to end her trials and tears forever! Medea couldn’t believe it. Her wish had been heard and would be granted if she could offer the goddess a sacrifice of similar value. But was this what she wanted? To kill her sister? Medea felt a tug of insecurity but dismissed it when remembering her sister’s latest offense. Despite pondering the offer deeply and earnestly, she couldn’t even think of anything of value to offer the goddess.
“My goddess Hekate, I am honored you sought me out and offered to grant my wish. But try as I might, I cannot think of an appropriate sacrifice for you.”
Hekate drifted, as if floating, her dogs remaining in their spots, scrutinizing Medea, who watched them still with trepidation.
“That is quite disappointing dear. I suppose I must take one of your brothers for the life of your sister then. Your parents have many sons, one less won’t matter much to them.”
Devilish laughter filled the darkened space.
“No! Please! My parents don’t deserve the agony! I don’t want the poison anymore goddess. I’m sorry, I should’ve never wished for it. I was foolish.”
Hekate’s face soured with contempt and disappointment.
“You reject MY GIFT?? How dare you mortal! I should curse you.”
The goddess lifted her hand and her fierce mongrels barked in a rage. Thinking feverishly, Medea collapsed to the ground, kneeling in front of the goddess in appeasement.
“Please Hekate! I am sorry I offended you. Thank you so much for your gift, but please understand. It is with my sister I have troubles, not my parents. They don’t deserve to lose two children because of my foolhardy wish. Their hopes for a better life are through my sister. I don’t want to steal their future from them.”
The dogs quieted and Hekate paused to consider what Medea revealed.
“Then there is only one satisfying solution, child. I keep the poison and will take YOU instead.”
Medea was stunned.
She sat up on her knees and regarded the goddess who had a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Instead of losing a daughter and a son, her parents would lose only her. She loved her benevolent parents, and they loved her, but what life could she expect on Earth? The poor life of a shepherd or a farmer’s wife? Hekate was powerful and she could learn much from her. Maybe this was her chance to live a life she never dared dream.
“Take me goddess. I’ll be of any assistance you want, eager to learn all you are willing to share with me.”
Hekate chuckled quietly.
“Alas, you made the right choice, Medea. It is you I desired all along. I have witnessed your excellence in herbal studies and as my student, you will transcend all boundaries. However, I needed to ensure your heart was indeed in the right place and you would not let emotion cloud your judgment.”
Medea beamed with pride. Her efforts and trials had been worth it. Although she felt miserable, she could not have killed her sister; it wasn’t in her nature. For Hekate she would be the best apprentice the goddess ever had. Her parents, brothers and maybe even her sister, would be missed sorely by her, but for the first time in her life, she was optimistic about her future.