Artemis Chronicles: The Thargelia Festival
April 27, 2017
Artemis Chronicles: The Thargelia Festival
Artemis awoke with a smile on her face. Stretching across her bed she glanced out of the window, silently thanking Apollo for this glorious May day. Though she couldn’t imagine him allowing the sun to hide on her birthday, and not so coincidentally the first day of the spring Thargelia festival.
There was so much happening today that Artemis knew she didn’t have the luxury of lazily lolling around in bed all morning. Not that she wanted to. The Thargelia festival was her favourite of the year—and not just because it was specifically created to honour her and all that she does for humanity. Although Artemis could admit to herself that it felt good to have a day all about her, knowing that people everywhere were celebrating the importance of spring, the harvest, the wonders of nature and all of the ways plants help feed and nourish them gave her comfort.
She quickly dressed and poured herself a cup of her favourite herbal tea before walking out for her morning ritual of inspecting her gardens. Artemis nearly stepped right on a comically large bouquet of flowers resting in front of her door.
“Apollo,” she said out loud laughing.
He left no card, no sign of ownership of his gift. But Artemis knew the exotic blooms with their explosive colour were gathered halfway around the world. And her twin brother was sweet enough to make the effort, but not quite smart enough to realize placing them right at her doorstep could spell doom for the fragile flowers.
She swooped them up, thankful the energizing herbs in her tea had already awakened her senses enough to react quickly, and placed them out of harms way until she returned. As Artemis reached her gardens her stag appeared, seemingly out of thin air.
“Oh there you are,” she called out to him. “And here I was thinking you’d forgotten it was my birthday.”
He was on his best behaviour this morning, as he didn’t even try to secretly sneak nibbles of his favourite sprouts, herbs and buds. Picking what she needed here and there, Artemis inspected her greenhouse next before finishing in her drying shed. The next batch of her medicinal herbs were spread out perfectly as their natural moisture slowly evaporated, readying them for dried teas and the like. Artemis relished in the quiet of the early hour, knowing the rest of the day would be busy, loud and wonderfully exhausting.
Soon she was headed to Mount Parnitha where people from near and far would be gathering to pay tribute to her and the bounties of the harvest. Artemis wondered which of the Gods would descend from Mount Olympus to celebrate her birthday. She knew most of them wondered why she chose to live, though alone, amongst the humans. Her love for her plants always took precedence of the need to live in luxury.
As she arrived at Mount Parnitha she quickly disguised her features as she transformed her stag into a horse. Artemis preferred watching the festival without her mortals knowing who she was. People milled all around her, dressed in their finest clothes. Women wore crowns of woven flowers and leaves. A group of musicians performed upbeat, happy music, while a gaggle of children played tag nearby. Vendors were set up, selling tantalizing delicacies to eat at the festival and handmade goods to take home. Artemis stopped to browse a stall offering herbal remedies. Smelling a jar of lavender-infused balm she smiled at the elderly old woman standing before her.
“Lavender has such a calming aroma doesn’t it,” Artemis said to her.
The old woman, stooped and fragile, nodded in agreement before replying, “Lavender, chamomile, lemongrass… there are so many plants that help and heal us. Praise Artemis for that.”
Artemis looked at the old woman carefully, realizing she recognized her. This was the old woman she had encountered in the forest months ago. The one she caught stealing herbs for her son.
“Yes, Artemis gifts us with plenty,” she said, never quite getting used to speaking about herself when in disguise. “But I’ve heard of an even more powerful herb, her favourite, that she grows as medicine for those truly in need.”
“Oh yes!” the wrinkled woman replied excitedly, gripping her apron. “I have met Artemis! No one believes me. None of these people believe me… but it’s true. She gave me some of those herbs herself. And they helped. They helped me. They helped my son. I could swear they were touched with magic. But alas, we ran out and the pain returned. None of these other remedies work as well.”
Feeling sorry for the woman, but not able to reveal her true self, Artemis nodded sympathetically and purchased the jar of lavender balm. She walked away, giving the elderly woman a final glance, as her thoughts turned to the purpose of the day. Artemis continued to observe the festival and the mortals of all ages, in good health and bad, walk around her. At the center was a giant tribute to her, with people gently placing their offerings of food, flowers and other treasures from nature.
Artemis placed her hand on her stag’s neck, knowing his true form beneath the horse’s exterior. The stag was not a creature comfortable around so many people. Perhaps she shouldn’t have brought him today. She watched the people—her people—and wondered if she did enough to help. If there was more she should be doing. Seeing the old woman again had startled her. Artemis recalled how angry she had been at finding someone on her private land, stealing her sacred herbs. But giving those same herbs to the old woman had been the right thing to do. So many people suffered. Too many.
As the sun slowly set on the festival, Artemis was ready to head home. The crowd would continue celebrating well into the early hours of the next morning. Soon Dionysus would arrive—never one to ignore a good fete. Aphrodite would come with him, always hoping to earn some new admirers. And several others were sure to join in the merrymaking. But Artemis had seen enough. The stag whinnied beside her and Artemis smiled, as it was so rare to hear him make any sound at all. Perhaps he make an occasional grunt when he was upset or a sheep-like bleat when he’s in trouble, but he was known for his silent companionship. She turned around to see what the noise was about and smacked directly into her brother.
“Happy Birthday Artemis,” he cried out loudly.
“Quiet you fool! I’m in disguise for a reason,” she grimaced, smacking him playfully on the arm.
“Eh, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want all the attention. These are your biggest fans after all.” Apollo said, sweeping his arms out. “They adore you. They literally worship you. I love a good worship.”
“Tomorrow is your day brother,” Artemis said, yawning. “The people of Athens and beyond will pay tribute to your power over the sun and their need for its warmth and protection.”
Apollo grinned at his twin sister, who was older by one day.
“It’s a good thing I was a little late arriving,” he said. “I’d sure hate to have to give up an entire day dedicated just to me.”
“Just make sure you’re not late with the sun for awhile,” Artemis countered. “You know how this season is critical to my harvest.”
“Plants. Plants. Plants,” Apollo bellowed. “That’s all you ever think about. Well, and your medicine and healing.”
Artemis nodded, still distracted by her thoughts and worn from her exhaustion.
“We all have a job to do brother,” she defended. “And I’ve spent the last few hours trying to figure out how to do mine better.”
She gave Apollo a wink and calmly walked away from the festival. By now he had probably joined his fellow Gods in revelry and indulgence. But for Artemis, her mind was elsewhere. She had spent so many years cautiously guarding her sacred herbs from the people of the world. Now she realized she needed to do just the opposite. The mortals needed her herb as much as they needed her. Perhaps more. She only needed to find a way.
To be continued…