Gentle morning light shone upon the plain marble alcove, falling in soft bars across the tangled sheets and the curves of Calypso’s hips as she curled beside him.
‘Hello my brave one.’ She watched him, all her heart hovering in her dark eyes. ‘You were sleeping very peacefully beside me.’
‘Did we fall asleep on the beach?’ Percy asked.
‘I didn’t want to wake you, so I carried you back with me.’ Calypso murmured, sliding one hand out from under the white sheets to brush her hair behind her ear. ‘Is it so terrible to wake up with me? You told me I was beautiful before.’
‘You are.’ Heat flashed to Percy’s face. ‘And right now I’m finding it hard to want to wake up to anything else.’ He glanced past her shoulder to the window.
The pale silhouette of the moon hung upon the blue, fading in the light of the morning.
‘But…’ The word slipped from his lips.
Calypso froze. ‘No. Please don’t say it.’ She buried her face in his chest and threw her arms around his neck. ‘Don’t tell me you have to leave. Stay. Stay with me. Forget everything beyond the shores of our home. I will be all you could ever wish for. I promise, Percy.’
But they thought it should be me. The fierce pride shining in Artemis’s silver eyes cast the doubts from his heart, banishing them like lingering shadows fleeing the full moon’s light. And I promised I wouldn’t disappoint them.
‘I gave my word,’ he whispered into Calypso’s dark hair. ‘And I don’t break it.’
Her quiet sobs tore at his heart and warm tears soaked into the white sheets against his chest.
‘I’m sorry.’ Percy held her tight. ‘I’m really really sorry.’
‘Please stay.’ Calypso lifted her head to stare with wide, tear-filled eyes. ‘Please. I will beg you forever. I will love you forever.’
‘I know.’ He pulled her close and stared up at the fading moon. ‘But I can’t.’
‘What if you die?’
‘I’m mortal, I’ll die at some point. It’s how it works.’
‘Not if you stay.’ She held his face in her warm hands, her breath washing against his chin. ‘If you stay, you’ll never have to fear dying.’
‘Zoë went to her death for Artemis. She was brave. I can be brave too.’ Percy recalled the flash of pride in Artemis’s eyes as she stepped from under the sky and the tears glistening in Zoë’s as she smiled up at the stars. ‘I have to go back. I can’t disappoint them.’
Calypso slumped into the sheets. ‘I really thought… this time…’
‘This time?’ he murmured.
‘That I’d be free. That you would stay.’ She rose from the bed. ‘Even now… I still have one last shred of hope you’ll change your mind. I can’t help it.’
‘If I can, I will free you,’ Percy promised, kicking back the sheets and jumping to his feet ‘Maybe, somehow, I’ll find a way back.’
Calypso squeezed her eyes shut, sending tears trickling over her pale cheeks. ‘It doesn’t work like that, Percy. There is no way back.’
He brushed her tears away with his thumb. ‘Impossible is just a word for those who’ve given up. Don’t give up hope. I’ll find a way to set you free.’
‘Then stay,’ she pleaded. ‘That’s all I would need. All I would ever need. Choose love.’
‘I can’t choose love.’ Percy winced from the flash of pain in her dark eyes. ‘Love is the ruin of heroes and—’ his heart sank as Calypso’s lips quivered ‘—and the ruin of girls who chase their affections.’
‘Staying would ruin nothing,’ she whispered. ‘You wouldn’t regret it. I promise. I will be everything you could wish for. The kindest companion. The most giving lover. The gentlest wife.’
‘I will set you free.’ He drew himself up. ‘I give you my word.’
‘And you don’t break it…’
‘I will never break it,’ Percy said. ‘Ever. Somehow, I will find a way to set you free from this curse.’
‘If you’re truly sure, if your heart is set…’ Calypso took his hand and led him through her halls and out into the garden.
A wooden raft rested upon the sand beyond the fluttering green leaves of the fruit trees.
‘So be it.’ She sagged. ‘If the raft has come, your choice has been made.’
‘If you come to hate me, I’ll understand,’ Percy muttered. ‘I don’t know how to say I’m sorry well enough to stop it hurting.’
A vast sadness rose in Calypso’s dark eyes. ‘You can’t stop it hurting, my brave one.’ She brushed her trembling fingers to his cheek. ‘And I thought… with my sister in the stars… it would – it should – maybe this time…’ Fresh tears shone in her eyes. ‘Would you take something with you? A gift? I don’t want you to forget me.’
Percy’s heart wrenched. ‘I will never forget you, Calypso. Ever.’
She bent and lifted a small box from beside the terracotta pots and the pale moonlace blossoms. ‘Take this. It holds moonlace seeds. Plant them in your own garden one day. And when you look at them, remember me and—’ her voice shook ‘—love me just a little if you can.’
He clasped the box tight in his hand, blinking back hot tears as the guilt tore at his heart like the swirling waves of the sea at some small ship cast adrift amidst the storm. ‘I promise.’
Calypso led him through her garden and under the trees, clutching his hand in both of hers as they stepped onto the sand.
It’s time, Percy. His Dad’s voice held all the sombreness of grey winter seas; its weight fell on Percy’s shoulders like the endless sky, grinding his heart down to dust. You’ve made your choice.
The tide tugged at the raft, pulling it a few inches down the beach.
‘I think I have to go,’ Percy whispered, placing one foot on the warm, worn wooden planks. ‘I’m so sorry, Calypso. I really am. I wish… I wish I could stay. But…’
‘I know.’ She squeezed his hand and pressed her cool, soft lips to his fingers. ‘I love you. Be safe. Be happy. Even – even without me.’
He eased his hand free and grabbed the mast as the sea surged, snatching the raft from the shore and sweeping it out into the spray.
Calypso’s song drifted from the beach behind him, soft and full of sorrow. Guilt swallowed him up; bleak black waters dragging his heart down into the crushing cold depths.
I can’t look back. He drew Anaklusmos from his pocket and clutched the sword tight to his chest. I can’t do it. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Calypso.
A flash caught his eye amidst the dark clouds gathering on the horizon and thunder rumbled in the distance.
‘Be brave,’ Percy whispered. ‘Be brave. I chose. And now, there are consequences.’ He pressed his forehead against Zoë’s bronze blade and closed his eyes. ‘Don’t let me disappoint her. I can’t disappoint her. I promised.’