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Author: Eilish Quin
Publisher: Atria Books, 2024

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Among the women of Greek mythology, the witch Medea may be the most despised. Known for the brutal act of killing her own children to exact vengeance on her deceitful husband, the Argonauts leader Jason, Medea has carved out a singularly infamous niche in our histories.

But what if that isn't the full story?

The daughter of a sea nymph and the granddaughter of a Titan, Medea is a paradox. She is at once rendered compelling by virtue of the divinity that flows through her bloodline and made powerless by the fact of her being a woman. As a child, she intuitively submerges herself in witchcraft and sorcery, but soon finds it may not be a match for the prophecies that hang over her entire family like a shroud.

As Medea comes into her own as a woman and a witch, she also faces the arrival of the hero Jason, preordained by the gods to be not only her husband, but also her lifeline to escape her isolated existence. Medea travels the treacherous seas with the Argonauts, battles demons she had never conceived of, and falls in love with the man who may ultimately be her downfall.


The Naiad

Of the Oceanids, there were innumerable. My mother was the youngest, and so too lately born to be a novelty among the Titans or the Gods. By the time she emerged, lithe and childlike from the edge of the Black Sea, her pale hair stuck wetly down her back and her eyes dark and swollen with salt, she already knew what she was.

Her own mother, Tethys, possessed a maritime attractiveness. Below the surface of the water, her eyes were a murky sea green, all shadow and gloom, looming out from skin so pale it glowed with a strange bioluminescence. On the occasions that she was dredged up from her repose beneath the waves, those same eyes glittered and gleamed like molten bronze when they caught the sun. She had polished thousands of children inside of her, had sheltered and shaped them in the womb of the ocean itself. And she had nursed them on the sweet fresh water from which she drew her own powers. If she had been mortal, she might have felt her body shoring against itself, straining under the pressure of producing infant after infant. But she was a Titan, the wet nurse of the earth. And so, she gave birth to the rivers, which roared with vitality, and the streams, which moved more softly; the clouds that grew heavy with rainwater; and the springs that bubbled up from the center of the world. Such was the fertility of Tethys.

From the Titan who birthed her, my mother acquired two things. The first was a body. Miniature and without blemish, skin as smooth and transparent as sea glass. The child was anointed in oils and swaddled in strands of kelp. Tethys, wan and exhausted from labor, handed over the newborn willingly into the arms of her other daughters.

The second gift my grandmother gave before returning to her own chambers beneath the sea was a name.

Idyia. Tethys would have conveyed it in her usual manner, a manner that did not involve language, for there was no need for words among the old Gods. And then, a promise, as her womb began to reknit itself. She will be the last of your brood.

And so it was Idyia's sisters who whispered to the youngest the secrets of herself, explained the jagged gills that loomed like lacerations down her neck, and the webbing between her fingers and toes. Playfully they would trace, with graceful, darting fingers, the veins, which stood pronounced under the blue-green highlights of her skin. So perfectly was she suited for the sea that should she have beached herself, no mortal could possibly have confused her for a human child.

From her sisters, she understood that she was not quite a nymph, but a Naiad. They passed her among themselves, delighted by the fair hair that curled at the back of her neck.

For the children of Titans, time does not pass in the way it might for mortals. My mother spent only a matter of painful hours teething, and by the end of that first day, had gained a set of pale, pointed fangs. Her expressive eyes, initially a clouded sea green, would polish themselves in her infant sockets until they were clear gray orbs. How queer it must have been to hold her, to reconcile the supple sweetness of her newborn face with the deadly power of her muscles, the vivid sharpness of her fingernails.

From her father, Oceanus, she knew intimately of her own naturalness. He informed her in the same way he informed all his daughters, somewhere between conception and the accumulating sentience of each successive rippling impulse. She was the thing that flowed, a current that ebbed and settled itself like a compulsion. The urge that heaved against riverbanks. A shored thing. An infinite thing. She could be cut, by ship or swimmer, but never wounded. This is water's divinity.

It was known that the daughters of Tethys and Oceanus made enviable wives. Although each was distinct, all possessed a perilous beauty--the kind of aching loveliness that drew sailors to their graves. In these daughters flowed the source of all things, and the Olympians, from on high, had ordained that they should preside over the young, nourishing and nurturing in the manner that they themselves were accustomed to. So alluring were the Oceanids that Zeus himself took some for wives.

And so when my father, Aeetes, landed upon the rocky shores of Kolchis, his eagle eyes penetrating and sharp, already surveying the land for what he could extract from it, Idyia came willingly out from the surf. It would be easier this way--if the local Naiad came to the new king's bed willingly. They already shared blood; the new king of Kolchis was Idyia's nephew, the peculiar and solitary son of her elder sister Perses. Even before his eyes fell on her and fixed upon the damp ringlets of her hair and the startling whiteness of her face, she knew what she would be to him. Even with the primordial essence of the earth and sky mixing in her veins, she was still only a woman.

My father built his palace at the edge of the cliffs overhanging the Black Sea. Perhaps he wanted to make his new bride feel more at home on dry land, or perhaps the construction was an homage to his own sea nymph mother. In truth, I suspect his reasons were not so straightforward or sentimental. My father, who was capable of all manner of things, from the breathtaking to the nightmarish, was naturally suspicious of every other creature he encountered. He assumed his own propensity for darkness flourished in them as well. His house, that palatial manifestation of his own power, should provoke terror in the hearts of his enemies, and kindle admiration in the breasts of his allies. A fortress straddling land and sea was militarily advantageous, aesthetically intimidating, and ideally situated for his experimentation.

But Idyia had little interest in the accommodations of mortal men. While her husband marveled at her neat ankles and luminous golden hair, she stared restlessly out of windows at the churning waters below, her yearning couched delicately on an elbow.

In the beginning, the new king refused to let her out of his sight. He had heard stories about the men foolish enough to leave their Oceanid wives to their own devices. The pull of the sea always proved too mesmerizing to nymphs. Neither riches nor mortal love rivaled the slow, dark paradise beneath the surface. My father observed his new wife closely, his golden hands never far from her throat, or the smooth skin of her inner thigh. During the moments when he could not be with her, he consigned her to the tent they shared while the palace grew out of nothing, and posted guards at the entrance to keep her confined. With Idyia trapped, he could let his frenetic mind wander over plans for the new fortification that was growing stone by stone, or through the churning texts of plants and herbs that were so critical to his sorcery.

In the evenings he returned to her, his keen eyes scouring her cheeks for flush, her legs for scrapes and bruises--any sign that she had gone out upon the beach without his permission. When he was satisfied that she was docile and obedient, he led her to the bed. Idyia's skin was cold to the touch, as though slightly damp with sea mist, but he did not mind. He was a child of the sun itself, that most powerful of the Titans, Helios, and so he glowed hot enough for the both of them.

It was known in those days that the best and only way to keep a Naiad was to give her a child. By the time the first stones had been laid, and the lumber set aside for furniture of the most opulent order, Idyia's stomach had already begun to swell. And so my sister, Chalciope, was born.

Chalciope emerged from my mother's womb with damp curls the color of soil rich with iron, and bronze skin, darker already than that of either of her parents. My father took her gingerly into his golden palms, appraising her as she fussed. He had wanted a boy, but he could wait. Aeetes had always been confident, and he knew his line was assured. For now, this child would suffice. He was pleased with her glimmering skin and how quick she was to quiet. She might even make a favorable match to some far-off king or demigod when she grew older and into her looks. Idyia was confounded by the child she had sired, this strange mix of herself and a mortal. She had known other infants, of course, had cradled them in her long transparent arms, and blown bubbles around their cheeks to make them laugh. But this one was quiet where the others, her multitude of nieces and nephews, had been playful and raucous, dark and radiant where they had been pale and softly glowing.

After the birth of my sister, it was as though my mother had passed a test. Aeetes could content himself that she would come back to him and to their child. Besides, she was more present with him on the evenings when she returned, skin frigid with chill and hair thick and glittering with salt water. And so Idyia was allowed to venture between the starkness of the sea and the opulent towers of my father's construction. Occasionally, she took Chalciope with her down beneath the surface, manipulating the currents so that a strand of air bubbles would wind around the child's face, providing her oxygen and refuge from the salt. Together, they would examine the treasures of the tides: starfish that were coarse to the touch, and anemones that sucked my sister's miniature fingers into their center, urchins that pricked her soft palms, and snails that attached themselves fondly to her legs. Chalciope was clumsy on land, but not in the sea, and so preferred the beach to anywhere else.

My sister was sweet and delicate, deprived of gills and of some of the native wildness that might have gone to her. If she scathed her knees on the uneven stones beside the beach, the wounds did not heal in a matter of moments, but lingered, ugly and vermillion and stinging under the open sky. Every bruise that appeared upon her flesh was a reminder to Idyia that her child was only semidivine. How dreadful to beget something that would only age and die, my mother must have thought, as she watched Chalciope wander around the newly erected palace on her fat baby legs. Death, to Idyia, seemed to go against the very laws of nature, for nature had, until that point, always been kind to her. Her daughter's mortality felt foreign and faraway, impossible to hold, and so I imagine that after a time, she ceased to think about it altogether.

For a while, at least, my mother was happy. She had a child of her own to care for, to imbue with the same wonder that she carried inside of her. Aside from the inconvenience of her husband, she was content.

It might have gone on like that, halcyon and sweet, if not for me. My mother's stomach began to swell again, the telltale signs of a body readying itself for creation. In the early months, this was not as noticeable. My mother was naturally slender, the smooth texture of her bones stood out against her indigo-toned skin, and she concealed me beneath the heavy folds of silk and lace.

Eventually, Father caught on, noticing the change in the way his wife carried herself, carefully, as though wary of damage. He observed the effulgent flush of her cheeks, the odd fire in her eyes that signaled a sacred kind of knowledge.

"You are with child," he asserted one evening, after Chalciope had been ushered away to bed. Idyia wrung the seawater from her hair, her soaked clothes clinging to her. It was not a question, because Aeetes was never uncertain.

Her eyes flicked up to his face, meeting the trenchant gaze that had always unnerved her. He shone too brightly, this husband of hers. There was too much of the sun in him for comfort. Everything he looked upon shriveled up, scalded.

"Yes, my lord," she murmured shyly. My mother had a voice that was simultaneously melodious and hissing, like waves crawling up a rocky shore.

He regarded her for a long moment, his eyes softening slightly in the candlelight. Moving forward, he took her in his arms, and pressed her cold, narrow frame against his chest.

"It will be a boy this time. An heir fit for the son of Helios." He smiled into her hair.

My mother said nothing, biting her lip, and grounding herself in the far-off sound of the surf below. Her name, Idyia, meant "knowing one," some intuition of her own mother, Tethys, that the last of the Oceanids would be prone to prophecy. Everything in my mother's uncanny body pointed toward another daughter. A boy would come eventually, but not now.

"I want you to stop going out in the mornings," Aeetes went on, arms tightening around her slightly. "We need to keep my heir safe, and the sea is no place for a woman in your condition. Chalciope is beginning to learn how to speak, and she should be inside, accompanied by nurses and tutors. When she comes back on your hip, her hair is a mess and she shrieks like the wind. It is unbecoming for a princess to be raised in the rough, don't you agree? No honorable man will want a savage bride."

Idyia, for her part, kept her mouth tightly closed. She knew better than to argue with my father.

Copyright © 2024 by Eilish Quin


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