Size / / /

Nine for the nine bright shiners.

The nine sisters in their rented manor house were just visitors. England's troubles hung heavy, Nazi zeppelins coasting her skies free as the clouds. Though the war struggled on, the RAF had been grounded for years. Clio, ever practical, had arranged passage back to the Piraeus on an American steamer.

"It will be good to go home," said Melpomene, sealing her first-edition Shakespeare folios against the salt air.

"Hellas is not what she once was," warned Calliope.

Melpomene shrugged. "Who is?"

Clio stared out the window as an airship droned past. Desultory antiaircraft fire boomed in the distance. "This was not meant to be."

Thalia laughed. "Fate hardly enters into it, sister. Besides, those three decamped long ago."

"That is not what I meant," Clio muttered.

Their butler stepped into the sitting room. "Someone has come, my ladies."

Erato cocked an eyebrow. "Has this person a name?"

"Robin Thorne," said a small man stepping past the butler. Face drawn tight, he leaned on an oak cane. He wore a dark green worsted wool suit with a holly sprig in the lapel, with eyes to match. Beneath the pain and fatigue, he seemed a roué. "At your service."

"And yours," said Clio. "To what do we owe this unexpected honor?"

Without asking leave, Thorne sat. "You are the Muses," he said. "You have been Powers in this land a while."

Clio simply held his eyes with her own violet gaze. "This is not spoken of lightly, Mr. Thorne. I presume you are also a Power in this land."

He tipped the cane toward her. "Not for much longer, I am afraid. My Britannic shores are foundering. This island will not sink like some modern-day Atlantis, but her enemies overrun her, and her spirit is deathly ill."

Melpomene approached, her voice soft. "What is this to us? We are only visitors."

"The world is wrong. I have been shown all things, and this Britain was never meant to be. Would you help me set it right?"

Clio took his hand. "We are Powers, not goddesses. This is not ours to repair."

"I have nothing to offer but my pride," Thorne said, "but I appeal to you. You nine are the brightest stars left in Britain's firmament. Have pity."

The sisters drew together, hands clasped, finding a common inner voice. There was no debate about Thorne's request, but they considered the man himself. A Power of the land was like a brother, and there were few enough left. Finally, Melpomene spoke.

"We cannot help Britain, but perhaps we can help you, Mr. Thorne. Will you accept what we can give?"

Thorne sighed. "As you will, ladies."

The nine Muses circled Thorne. They sang songs older than the temples of Anatolia, more powerful than the fires of Thera. They sang pain and joy. They sang Thorne out of his earthly husk and set him blazing in the sky in the heart of the Hyades, a star like so many of their fellow Powers. In the end, only his clothes remained, and some half-rotted leaves.

Clio took Thorne's cane and returned to the window. "Look," she said, "suddenly there are zeppelins burning in the east." In her hand, the oak cane struggled to push out fresh twigs.

"All the more reason to sail away," said Melpomene.

 

Copyright © 2003 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. In 2003, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Writers of the Future XIX, and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. For more about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at jlake@jlake.com.

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