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The Sky Throne
By Chris Ledbetter
Month9BooksCopyright © 2017 Chris Ledbetter
All rights reserved.
Since the moment I started at Eastern Crete Lower Academy two years ago, I'd felt like such an outcast. The guys, mostly Potamoi and sons of Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys, never regarded me as an equal. I didn't even warrant bullying. It's like I never even existed. If only I'd known how visible I'd become in the coming days.
I always got picked last for swim team and crew in physical fitness class. I actually was the third best wrestler overall in school and peerless in javelin throwing due to superior training from my guardians, the Kouretes. When Eastern Crete competed in the Mediterranean Invitational Games against academies from Phoenicia, Egypt, and Libya, I placed first in the javelin event, beating Gurzil from Libya who was the reigning champion from years past. I even won my weight class, the lightest class there was, in wrestling by beating Melqart from Phoenicia. But none of that mattered.
I was still invisible.
I loved science class. The lessons where we studied energy and matter were like fresh spring water to a parched throat. But the rest of my classes bored me to tears. We had language arts, music, and math in the mornings. Physical fitness, agriculture, and science took up our afternoons. I wouldn't say I was intellectually ahead of them, because, hey, that'd be conceited. But my mother prepared me well, with all the goat tending and such. And she always said when I came home from classes each night that they just didn't know how to teach me on my level.
So, I was forced to make my own fun. No one would probably notice anyway.
After the big Invitational Games win, I was posted up at the school's entry columns with my best friend, Anytos, watching the Oceanids as they arrived for classes one morning. Sisters to the Potamoi, the Oceanids were the sea nymph daughters of our headmasters. Okeanos and Tethys, aside from being our school administrators, were also Elder Deities of the vast ocean, which is why we at Eastern Crete dominated all water sports. Swimming. Cliff diving. Crew. We bested all comers. But not me. I dove and swam exactly the same ... like an anvil.
The Oceanids descended upon the campus from their barracks like a wave crashing against the shore. Telesto, the most beautiful sea nymph by several stadia, smiled at me for the first time since I'd been going to the school. Okay, it wasn't a full smile. The corner of her lip twitched upward as she flipped her wavy, aquamarine hair over her shoulder and glanced past me. But that counts, right?
I backhanded Anytos in the chest. "You saw that. That's my opening. If I don't make my move, she'll be gone to the upper school next year."
"Pssht, she is beyond the Mediterranean beautiful. Completely unattainable."
"Did you see that come hither stare she flashed me?"
"Looked more like indigestion."
"You are as wrong as you are false. Cover my back. I'm moving in."
I crossed the courtyard in a flash and caught Telesto's arm as she reached the weather-beaten front door to the main school hall. "Telesto, you look as if the sun radiates from you."
She paused and leaned back against the doorframe. "You're just saying that because I wore my yellow tunic today."
"You shine with such brilliance; you should wear yellow every day."
She folded a strand or two of stunning teal hair behind her ear and twirled the ends. "But what happens when I wear my purple tunic?"
"A tunic hasn't been invented that could dampen your beauty."
She giggled and turned away from me for a moment. "Zeus, is it?"
I nodded, surprised she even knew my name.
"You're the one who pulled that massive prank on my mother, Headmaster Tethys, aren't you?"
Oh, that's how she knew me. Not invisible after all. I bowed. "I am him. He is me. One and the same."
"Crazy. She was so mad." She shook her head, stifling a smile. "As far as I can tell, language arts must be your favorite subject. Your tongue is spectacularly sharp-witted."
"Not really. But I am feeling a little inspired right now."
Several strands of her hair fell to cover half her face. "Are you going to the bonfire at the beach tomorrow night?"
"I wasn't invite —"
Several of Telesto's broad-shouldered, dark-haired brothers bumped into me from behind. "Those are uncharted waters, boy. Careful now," One of them called over his shoulder. Those were the first words they'd ever spoken to me.
Telesto rolled her eyes. "Pay them no mind. They're harmless. You were saying?"
"Those bonfires are an Oceanids and Potamoi thing? It's kind of a secret club that you have to be born into, right? Being brothers and sisters, children of Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys ... young water deities in training ... masters of rivers and streams ..."
"I guess. But you should come out any way. It's all night, under the stars. Eating, drinking, stargazing ... What's better than that?"
Gazing into her mesmerizing, iridescent eyes, my mouth fired before I could stop it. "Kissing you under the stars. That's better."
"Sprint much? You're a fast mover."
"I just go after what I want."
"Well ..." A pink tint rose on her high cheek bones. "We shall see. But first you have to show up." Her lips twitched gain. "I have to go to class. See you tomorrow?" She disappeared inside the school hall.
I turned to Tos with a pterodactyl-eating grin on my face. He shook his head and smiled.
The boring part of my daily routine was set to commence. School. Classes. Ugh. I wished the school day was already over so I could just go to games practice. As Tos and I walked to first period, I was struck by the overwhelming urge to liven my day up just a bit.
"Tos, I have a good one. You with me?"
"Oh heavens. Is it what I think it is?"
"I feel the need ... the need to prank!"
Tos shook his head. "My pranking days are over."
"Come on. Just one more. Promise it's the last one."
He glared at me.
I explained the entire idea to him. "It'll be after language arts, all right? It's going to be good."
After class, Tos and I waited until all other students had left. He took his position at the door to make sure no one came in. I approached Professor Ceto at the front of the room. Tablets and scrolls decorated the top of her desk.
"Professor, do you have strong hands?"
Her intelligent eyes narrowed. "Sure, I do. Why?"
"I bet you a homework pass that you can't balance a goblet on the back of your hand."
Her forehead wrinkled.
"Place your hand on the desk, palm down," I said.
I filled her water goblet and placed it on the back of her hand.
She smiled. "See. No problem at all."
I picked up the goblet. "Now place your other hand on top of this one."
She sighed. "Why? Is that supposed to be harder? So, if I fail, you get a homework pass, yes? If I complete the task, what do I get?"
"It's a surprise."
"Go ahead, then," she said, placing her left hand atop her right. "Get on with it."
Barely able to contain my giddiness, I balanced the full water goblet on the top of her two hands.
"See," she said with triumph in her voice. "I did it. Where's my surprise?"
"All right then, I'll see you next week. Have a good weekend." I walked quickly to the door.
"What? Wait, I can't move my hands without spilling water all over my scrolls."
Tos opened the door and we both rounded the corner in a flash.
We were halfway to period two music when I heard an unholy roar across campus.
Tos and I laughed our behinds off and slapped hands as we passed a solitary blueish post in the center of the courtyard. No one knew much about it or who designed it. But its presence was striking.
Upon reaching music class, Tos and I took our positions near the kithara and lyre. Our teacher, Professor Leucosia and several more students entered and we prepared for instruction. Leucosia had the most beautiful singing voice. Simply spellbinding. Sometimes, I felt light-headed when she'd sing along with our accompaniment.
Shortly after arriving in class, Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys shadowed the doorway to our room. The expression on Tethys' face could have killed a wild boar at forty paces.
"Zeus, Anytos, we need you to step outside right now." Tethys said. Her eyes mirrored the Aegean during a storm.
I looked at Tos. My heart rate quickened to a pace I'd only felt after running sprints. Slowly, I rose to my feet. This couldn't have been good.
We walked over to Okeanos. I had to crane my neck just to see the Headmaster's eyes. His biceps were bigger than my head, despite silvery blue hair atop his head and an aged, wrinkly face.
His somber and deliberate voice rumbled. "You are hereby expelled from Eastern Crete Lower Academy. This infraction and expulsion will go on your master record. You may apply again next term."
"Why? What did I do to deserve this?"
Professor Tethys stepped forward to grab my arm. "Your little pranks have gotten you in deeper water than you can swim in, young man. You obviously need some time to think about how you can be a better contributor to the educational system."
"No. You can't expel me. Please!" I clasped my hands in front of my face. "My mother will kill me!"
"Not our concern." Okeanos folded his gigantic arms. His voice rumbled again. "You must learn to be a better student. A better citizen."
"But they were just pranks," I pleaded.
"Yes. And this is the seventh such prank we've endured at your hands. And since Anytos helped you, he shall accompany you home." Tethys pointed east toward Mount Ida, the highest peak on Crete. "You have until the sun chariot reaches its zenith to leave campus." She gazed upward. "By the looks of things, your time's nearly at an end."CHAPTER 2
I hung my head. Anytos glared at me. His gaze screamed all the words he didn't say. On our walk home, we passed the bobbing ships in the harbor port, and the dry dock where most of the Kouretes, my guardians, built seafaring vessels. Aristaeus headed the watercraft and open sea navigation program to post graduate students who didn't get invited to the upper academy. He also coached for some of the events at the games, mainly crew. But that was a thinly veiled recruiting push for rowers to eventually man the oars on his long distance, open water vessels that visited foreign lands.
My school, or rather the school I just got expelled from, was part of the Olympus Academic District, which included six other lower schools around the Mediterranean and Aegean. The Nereids, daughters of Elder Deities Nereus and Doris, went to schools on the islands Euboea, Samos, and Limnos. Eastern Crete Lower Academy, despite its name, actually sat at the central northern edge of the island, attached to a harbor. There used to be a Western Crete on the far northwest corner of the long crooked finger of our island. But that school closed and the students were split between Eastern Crete and Kithira, which is an island off the bottom tip of the mainland to our north. Actually, all of the island lower schools and the mainland of Hellas were north from us.
All lower schools fed Mount Olympus Preparatory Academy and Othrys Hall Academy, yet only the most elite pupils who graduated with honors from a lower school were invited to attend the great mountain school, Mount Olympus Prep, on the mainland. I was sure Telesto was a lock to move on. Since my expulsion, however, my chances of making it that far had been reduced to somewhere between slim and none.
Anytos exhaled loudly through his nose every couple of steps during the entire walk back to our goat drawn chariot. He never spoke a word during the entire ride home, made even longer by the silence. And let's be real, goats just weren't that fast to begin with.
My mother, Amalthea, stood in a field near my cave home, tending our goats when we arrived. Her smile embraced me. "How was your day?"
Had I been alone, I would've told her nothing about what had happened at school. I mean, I might've mentioned it eventually. But having Tos standing next to me with this horrendously sad expression forced my hand. I sulked, hating that I had gotten my friend in trouble as well. I only wanted to have a little fun.
"I ... uh ..." I began and then sighed. "Well, we actually were ... uh ... sort of expelled from school today."
Mom's eyes flashed fire as she glared at me. "I don't have time for your antics, Zeus! I have a goat farm to run." Her hands flew skyward. "What do you mean ... expelled?"
Anytos eased away from us toward the cave that we both called home. He left me there to explain the entire ordeal to Mom. The disappointment on Amalthea's olive-toned face hurt the most. The dimple on her smile had been erased, replaced by a furrowed brow. She listened and then very calmly told me I was on punishment and that I was to finish watching the goats for the remainder of the day and then shovel their dung. Tending goats was like watching the sun crawl across the sky. It made watching grass grow seem like a party. Shoveling goat patties was even worse. I nearly vomited numerous times.
Amalthea used to teach agriculture at Eastern Crete. When she retired, she became a prize-winning goat farmer, breeding goats to be shipped to every lower school in the Olympus Academic District for use in agriculture classes. The Kouretes lived nearby. When they weren't building ships, they provided security and protection for Amalthea's goat empire. Mom expected me to take over the goat farm. Anytos stood next in line to inherit the goat security operation. He could have had both, as far as I was concerned. He didn't have to worry about me fighting him for either dungtastic job, no offense. I had grander plans in mind.
* * *
The following day after goat tending chores from sunrise to sunset, I bathed and then collapsed, exhausted, into a deep sleep on my bed inside the cave. I woke in the middle of the night with a start that almost made my heart leap from my chest for beating so hard. I shook Tos' shoulder.
He finally opened his eyes. "What in the underworld do you want?" he whispered.
I put my finger to my lips and pointed to outside the cave. "I have to show you something."
"Shhh!" I glanced around the semi-darkness. The torches at the cave entrance cast just enough light inside that I could see that no one was stirring. I tugged on Tos' tunic and then rose to my feet atop sleep-weary legs. Tos followed. We snuck outside the cave, careful not to alert anyone.
I whispered again, "We have to get to the bonfire."
"Just before we were expelled, Telesto invited us to a bonfire at the beach tonight. It's an all-night affair."
"Are you crazy? I'm not going anywhere with you in the middle of the night."
"Please. I need this. You do too. This is the first invitation we've ever gotten to an Oceanids party. Trust me; there'll be enough girls and food for you too."
"That's not my concern." He sighed. "You just got me kicked out of school. You are on punishment. And now you want me to get in more trouble? No, thank you."
"It's not more trouble. Is the water goblet always half empty for you?"
Tos narrowed his eyes at me.
"Okay, bad joke." I glanced around to the cave entry to see if anyone had heard us. "Look, I'm going. You can stay here if you want." I rose to my feet.
"Telesto must've singed a few brain cells when you were flirting with her earlier. You have completely lost all logical thought."
"Who needs logical thought when sea nymphs beckon? So you're in?"
Tos shook his head. "I can't let you go by yourself. Who knows what trouble you'd get into without me."
"Great, we'll be back before sunrise and then act like we're getting ready for goat duty."
"Goat duty is your bag. When we return, I'm taking my hind parts back to bed."
I gripped his hand. "I'm glad you're talking to me again."
"Shut up before I change my mind."
We stole ... no, borrowed a chariot and one goat. Luckily the goat was half-asleep. By the time it began bleating, we'd traveled several stadia away. We turned the chariot northward. The beachfront spread out before us at the base of the cliff that overlooked the harbor port near school.
When we arrived, crackling fire already stretched into the night sky. Flames leapt high above our heads. At least a hundred people dotted the beach, unless I didn't pay close enough attention in math class and my estimating skills were off. Some of the guys threw a circular disc back and forth. Others threw spears at a ringed target. Girls danced in groups while others played lyres and flutes. The waves provided percussion for their efforts.
After I asked several people if they'd seen Telesto, and received either blank stares or sneers, Tos pulled me aside.
"You look as desperate as a fish flopping around, struggling for air." He clapped me on the back. "I told you we shouldn't have come. It's just like school, only darker outside. It's not like we were winning any popularity contests."
"Confidence is everything. Act like you belong, and you will."
Excerpted from The Sky Throne by Chris Ledbetter. Copyright © 2017 Chris Ledbetter. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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