Circe smirked over the rim of her coffee cup as she stared shamelessly.
“Isn’t she lovely, Callie?” she said, arching an eyebrow at the other woman.
“You know not to call me that,” Calypso answered, not a break in her damnable serenity to be found. But she was watching the woman across the shop as well, more subtly, darting little glances out of the corner of her eye.
The woman was an adjunct art professor at the university; she specialized in textiles. She might be exactly what they were looking for.
“My apologies, o queenly Calypso of the braided tresses,” Circe responded, not bothering to look away from the woman. She already knew the way Calypso’s mouth would tighten ever so slightly at the reminder of years—of centuries—long past.
The object of their scrutiny stretched suddenly, flexing her shoulders and arching her back as she looked up from her computer screen. Calypso busied herself with her ridiculous drink, ducking her head, but Circe didn’t look away. She was rewarded with a half-glance, clearly having been dismissed without thought.
She pushed down how much that dismissal rankled—it was what she wanted, after all—and lapsed into silence with Calypso.
She was late.
Calypso frowned as she watched the door. Quarter after four; she should’ve been here fifteen minutes ago.
Hopefully nothing too awful had happened. It would be such an imposition to have to find another candidate after all this time.
The bell over the door caught her attention, and in walked the woman she’d been waiting for. Something in her chest settled, and the tension in her shoulders she’d been hardly aware of released.
And then settled right back in all at once when the woman eschewed her normal seat and turned to where Circe sat.
She was composed, her face still and remote, as she sat across the little table without saying a word until she was settled.
“I apologize for the imposition—” and even her voice was lovely, low and even—“but I would like to know exactly how long you’ve been…following me.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” Circe answered promptly, finding her feet quickly.
The woman was not impressed. She pulled out her phone and began scrolling through the pictures, wordlessly showing Circe images of herself in the background.
Circe suppressed a smile. Clever. And brave, if a bit foolhardy, to come and confront her.
“Don’t scream,” she ordered, and dropped the enchantment obscuring her eyes for a moment.
The woman went rigid and pale-faced at the flash of gold, but to her credit she did not immediately start babbling apologies.
“My question still stands, my lady,” she said, her voice slow with caution. “What interest could you possibly have in me?”
Circe smiled, sharp and predatory. “You fascinate me, Penelope,” she answered. “And it is the rare mortal indeed that fascinates Circe.”
Penelope could have been carved from stone, she was so still. She was scarcely even breathing.
“And how may I be of service to you, o divine Circe?”
“I wish to take you on as a student,” she replied. “It grows boring, you see. We immortals have so little variation. Someone to teach, someone to pass on my skills and magic to, that would be an excellent diversion.”
“And you chose me?”
“Whyever not? I have been watching you, as you know. You’ve showed yourself intelligent, resourceful, clever, and best of all stubborn. I think you could excel with me as a teacher.”
Penelope was silent for several moments. She steepled her fingers in front of her mouth.
“I would have you swear that you intend me no harm,” she said at last.
“Of course,” Circe said smoothly. “I promise—“
“No,” Penelope interrupted. “I would have you swear.”
Circe paused at that, and grinned. Normally mortals flinched at such an expression, even when they didn’t know who she was. Penelope stood firm.
“As I said. Clever. Very well. I swear on the River Styx, and on my own power and my lady Hecate, that I mean you no harm. I take you on as my student in good faith, and will teach you the ways of enchantment as taught to me.”
The power of her vow echoed in the air around them. Penelope shivered slightly, and Circe felt a thrill of triumph. She’d known Penelope was a good candidate.
“How shall we begin?” Penelope asked, leaning forward in her seat.
“I have an associate, another enchantress that will be assisting,” she replied. “And then, o wise Penelope, what do you know of weaving?”
Penelope quickly proved herself adept at weaving indeed.
"It's beautiful," Calypso murmured, running her hands over the cloth Penelope had finally produced. Royal purple—Tyrian purple—with a subtle pattern of acanthus leaves.
It was gorgeous.
"I do hate to say I told you so," Circe replied, sotto voice.
Calypso merely looked at her with infinite patience.
"I do wish you wouldn't lie to me."
Circe nodded in acknowledgement, then turned her attention back to the matter at hand.
"You acknowledge, then, that she's good enough to apprentice?"
And so they took her in, and began teaching her the subtle arts of weaving enchantments.
Calypso showed her how to pour her heart and love into the spells, how to seduce with a gentle touch hiding an unmovable core, creating a cloth that would not tear and could not be cut by any but Penelope herself. She showed her how to create unbreakable bindings and how to loosen them with a word.
And throughout, she taught Penelope how to stand firm before even the gods themselves, how to use her cleverness and her quick mind to their greatest advantage, and that the right words in the right places could be more effective by far than the threat of force.
Circe, meanwhile, taught her how to weave transitions and transformations, how to work in different colors and stitches subtly and obviously, and how to choose between the two. She taught her how to incorporate different materials and how to switch between them most effectively.
Penelope picked up on the subtlety very quickly, to absolutely no surprise to either of her teachers.
So it went. Both goddesses were pleased with the progress their student was making, and expected they could soon teach her how to weave enchantments without the physical loom and wool. And then their student surprised them both.
“I have a proposition,” Penelope said over the loom the moment Circe and Calypso entered the room.
“And good morning to you as well,” Circe replied, taking her place.
“There is a girl. One of my students. She is talented, and bright, and curious, and I think she would do very well as a student of yours.”
Circe and Calypso exchanged glances.
“That’s why we have you, dear,” Calypso said, not unkindly. “We hardly need a second.”
“You do not think it would be interesting?” Penelope responded. “To have someone else, someone with different strengths and talents, that you might mold in a different way?”
The goddesses exchanged another glance.
“We’ll meet her,” Circe said. “Bring her tomorrow.”
It would be an imposition, and if she hadn’t been so fond of Penelope she never would have agreed, but her student was rarely so passionate, and Circe’s curiosity was piqued.
The girl Penelope brought to them the next day was younger than Circe had expected, a pretty little slip of a thing with big eyes and slender hand.
"This is Nausicaä," Penelope said. "I knew her mother long ago."
They set her up with a loom and watched as she demonstrated her skills.
She worked the whole day and into the night, and when she was finished she presented them with a light, gossamer cloth. It was beautifully done, though it lacked the precision and refinement of Penelope’s first efforts. But the girl was younger, rawer than Penelope had been.
Circe looked at Calypso. Calypso smiled.
“Nausicaä. We accept you as our student.”
The girl looked something between awed and excited, and Circe grinned.
Nausicaä didn’t flinch.
A worthy choice indeed.