The god of light pulled to a stop in the pristine marble streets of Olympus; his duty to bring the sun to the world finished, and weary from his ventures, Apollo dismounted his golden chariot and allowed the noble Pegasi pulling his transport some rest.
“Tired my friends?” He asked the two winged horses patting their necks affectionately as the animals nuzzled their master’s arm.
“Me too.” Apollo smiled softly, then added, “I do not believe ambrosia and nectar will be enough to cure this lethargy that’s taken over me. I am certain it is time I should look at the gathering in my Temple at Delphi, let the restaurative praises of the mortals heal me instead. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed the worship of mankind.”
In a moment, the Pegasi scampered off to feed on Olympian grasses, and the god of light walked to the edge of the Eternal City, where the view of the mortal world shifted under the waning morning. Apollo adjusted his sight, like binoculars focusing on a specific point in the distance. His temple at Delphi rushed at him while the rest of the world receded.
“Splendid!” Apollo exclaimed when a group of mortals filed through the open doors of the temple.
The crowd was thick and full, milling about the open space, squeezing by columns and statues depicting a young, beardless youth, viril and strong, showing a variety of Apollo’s many attributes. Half a dozen braziers stood flaming in front of each statue, waiting for people who brought fresh fruit, cereals, laurel wreaths, and even the small sacrificial prey, to burn their offerings to their god. Prayers accompanied the offerings as they fell into the fire, and somewhere in the room a musician played the lyre in a echoing corner.
Apollo closed his bright blue eyes and took a deep, deep breath. The fragrant odor of the burnt tribute invaded his nostrils and filled his chest, cleansing his aura and renewing his depleted strength with his next exhale. An electric wave crackled around him as the sacrificial smokes ascended, coiling rhythmically towards Olympus and the god himself. Every muscle in his body tightened and relaxed in quick succession, giving him another inch or so of mass and strengthening his muscles. His golden hair glistened anew in the glare of the sun while he flexed his fingers, craving the feel of his lyre strings under them.
Just as he was about to summon the lyre to play along the musician in his shrine, the most beautiful voice he’d heard in millennia cut through the other prayers, the crackling of the consuming fire of offerings, and music previously filling Apollo’s ears.
It was only a short worship song— one verse sang twice and not a whole stanza at that— but what beautiful voice it was!
Being the god of music, Apollo’s ears perked up and waited for the rest of the rendition, but nothing else came for two long beats of the heart, and then, the song picked up again, less timid than the first try and even an octave higher.
Apollo leaned forward on the rail-less edge of his sky high home, and his eyes searched the congregation like hawks seeking prey, but the crowd had thickened out if possible.
People pressed against each other, trying to get to the specific braziers they sought out, meanwhile the singing kept gaining strength. Apollo realized the one he was focused on was merely joining in another two voices that sounded less captivating, but still very charming all the same.
“Three women,” he gasped, “three women singing! Where are they?” But there were hundreds of women singing in various size groups all over the temple.
With a growl, the god took a step backwards and pushed off the edge of Olympus with the tip of his toes, lunging himself straight down to Earth like a meteor. His arms flushed at his sides at first, suddenly opened at shoulder level and tucking his head down, his whole body shimmered, shrinking and morphing while feathers, black as night on a moonless sky replaced sun-kissed, fair skin.
Apollo swooped inside the temple and flew close to the ceiling cocking his head here and there, scanning the crowd with tiny black eyes that could still bring into focus a specific section at a time. His bird ears perked up when again the sweet voice he sought lifted above the rest of the singers, and he realized it came from the direction reserved for the healers who worshiped him.
The bird god flew overhead in a circle, enough times he got the unwanted attention of a priest who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
“Look!” The priest cried out disrupting the prayers and songs of the other mortals, making Apollo glare in annoyance. “A raven! In the temple!”
“Is it the wrath of Apollo upon us?” Asked a woman trembling from head to toe.
The fear picked up like wildfire among the mortals, cowering and accusing one another of imaginary transgressions against their god.
Knowing keeping his current appearance would hinder his search, Apollo turned the feathers on his body to white, causing the crowd to sigh in relief at the sight of the bird’s new plumage. He flew out a small window at the side of the temple on the opposite wall just as quickly as he’d come in.
Mortals have the habit of taking omens way too close to heart. Apollo should have known better than to use the form of a creature he’d— for all intents— had cursed by turning its feathers the color of soot, but then again, the raven was his bird, he should be able to use it in whatever circumstance he seemed fit. Instead, he was forced to take on a human form.
The luminescence of his divine skin muted to a dull glow that simply disappeared the more man-like he appeared. His eyes also lost the light of the sun that filled them, and turned into a bright, cheerful blue. His hair went from golden like the rays of the sun to ashy blond and curly at the ends. He debated whether to grow a beard or stay clean faced as he naturally was… he opted for the latter. Then, he looked down at his robes, still too magnificent to be worn amongst the mortals and remaining incognito. A quick wave of his hand left him wearing a cream color chiton with a brown chlamys fastened at the shoulder by a small wooden lyre broach. Simple sandals kept his feet properly protected. He could be a traveling peasant and nobody would look at him twice.
Apollo marched into his temple with a single task in mind: Find the singing maid. He made his way through the crowd still gawking at the ceiling of the temple where the raven had been flying not a minute earlier, others had fallen to their knees with renewed fervor after witnessing how the bird went from bad to good omen with the change of plumage.
The priest was still standing in the middle of the temple, flapping his arms over his head, chanting loudly some nonsense about Apollo’s power and wisdom. The god made a beeline to the old man, knowing he had to snap him out of the trance so the songs and prayers resumed and he could get back to his search.
“What an amazing miracle to behold.” Apollo said into the priest’s ear, “The sun is bright, the wind is sweet, call to the lyres, our Lord to please. Music and song is what the gods want, ring out your voices, let your poems fall from your lips.”
As if hypnotized, the priest stood stock still, his eyes turned glassy, but then he started calling for lyres to carry out a tune, and singers to belt out their praises loudly. His job done, Apollo melted back into the crowd.
The god of music stuck his arm out and his lyre appeared in his hand out of thin air. It was of course disguised as a common instrument to match its master’s appearance, but it was still the most celestial sound in the place. Soon the voices of the mortals filled the god’s ears and he had to close his eyes to take in all the influx of strength and new life pouring into him. And suddenly, the voice he had momentarily forgotten, hit his senses awake.
“She’s there!” The god looked to his left, and his feet lead him without stopping. People cleared a path for him with a wave of his fingers until he found himself in the middle of the cluster of healers that followed his cult as patron of medicine and healing.
Three women holding each other called his attention. One was a downtrodden looking woman who still possessed a certain beauty to herself; the other two were younger, a nervous looking maiden with long, braided hair as dark as Apollo’s ravens and eyes as bright as the full moon; the last one, not much older than a child, blonde and fair as the older woman, with features that resembled both of her companions. The god deduced the three women were kin to one another, and simply inched closer to them, to see if he had found his mystery singer.
He played his lyre while approaching the singing trio, convinced it was the source of the voice he craved. The ladies sang to his tune as if under a spell.
Apollo saw two of The Muses— Euterpe, goddess of song and lyric poetry; and Polyhymnia, goddess of hymns— come to dance around the mortal women. He smiled at them gratefully, knowing full well they came to help him draw out the singing for as long as the mortals could stand it.
Normally, mortals can’t see The Muses; they can only feel their presence and respond to their inspirational nudgings, but the gray eyes of the eldest girl fixed on Euterpe. Startled by the apparition, her eyes widened in fear and apprehension. The maiden wrapped her arms around the younger girl’s lithe body and pulled her closer to her chest. A moment later, and without taking her gaze from the goddess, the mortal maid had taken a protective stance shielding the youngster with her own slim frame.
The action piqued Apollo’s curiosity.
Apollo dismiss his goddesses, grateful for their help, he lifted the mist blinding the mortals to the presence of the deities, and freed them from the trance The Muses had put on all the congregation.
Apollo’s fingers rang out a few more notes on his lyre, and then stopped playing his enchanted music. As if by magic, The Muses disappeared, leaving the mortals confused for a short moment. But humans are forgetful, fickle creatures, all bewilderment wiped off their minds almost immediately.
Apollo watched the women closely. The older girl released her grip on the youngest, who beamed up a smile as breathtaking as it was sweet.
“That was amazing, Katniss! Thank you for helping me sing today. I’m sure our songs brought the blessing of the dove to the temple today. I’ve never seen anything alike before.”
Apollo snorted. Mortals always saw only what they could explain. They witnessed a raven turn it’s feathers white above their heads, and quickly pronounced it a dove instead.
The older girl’s facial muscles twitched, her lips pursed for a second but then she schooled her expression into a slight smile. “Maybe it was, little duck. Maybe the gods know it is your thirteenth birthday and sent a blessing just for you. I hardly had anything to do with it.”
“Oh, that’s not true!” The girl whispered, blushing before tackling the maiden with a hug. “You have the most amazing voice. And the blessing was for everyone who saw the dove, not just me. Right, Mama?” The girl turned to the woman who’s soft blue eyes watched the exchange as if afraid to be shooed away.
“It’s, true. Katniss has the sweetest voice ever. And the blessing is a welcome and most needed sign from our lord, Apollo.”
“Thank you, mother.” Said the older girl less warmly than how she spoke to the youngster. “I’m sure Apollo enjoyed all the other offerings we brought for him.”
“Sure he did!” Exclaimed the younger sister. “Lord Apollo is the wisest, strongest and most approachable of all the gods in Olympus.”
“Shush, Prim!” Chided the big sister, nervous eyes flitting everywhere at once. “We must never compare deities as such. All gods are great in their own rights and none is highest than Zeus himself. All gods are powerful and amazing.”
“You don’t sound very convinced.” Said Apollo immediately regretting his faux pas as the raven-haired maid’s blood drain from her thin face. “I apologize for intruding. It is not my place.”
“It is not!” The maiden scowled mightily. “It will do you well to stick to playing your lyre, minstrel!”
Apollo felt his heart swell.
It was a well known fact, Apollo, for all his might and attributes, obsessed over hard-to-get romantic interests; it was his weakness. The harsh words of this maid only made him more bent on wanting to know her.
“Minstrel you call me, like it is a disease.” Said the god smirking, “But our Lord Apollo finds the musicians to be bearers of gifts, like joy and beauty.”
The maiden rolled her eyes. “Of course Apollo would.” She muttered under her breath.
“Katniss, remember where you are!” Hissed her mother behind a fan, tired blue eyes nervously shifting around.
Katniss feigned a smile. “Lord Apollo is most gracious unto us. Alas, I am not of his service.” She looked at her family warily, “Mother, Primrose, if you think you’ve satisfied Apollo with our meager offerings, I believe it is time to seek the the priest to bring forth Prim’s name to be considered to start the healer training now that she’s thirteen.”
“Allow me to escort you, my lady. I’m sure god Apollo is eager to bless his new healer in the making!” The god smiled at Primrose, whose cheeks turned a sweet pink.
“That will not be necessary, minstrel. We can find the priest on our own just fine.”
“Peeta, my lady. The name is Peeta Mellark, at your services,” said Apollo at once and without putting too much thought into it, took the maiden’s hand to kiss it.
As soon as his skin made contact with hers, a series of pictures played in the god’s mind’s eye. He could curse his powers now, he hated the ones he couldn’t control completely.
The air thicken, a mystical aura descended into the temple. The priestess Pythia who sat alone in her tripod stool in the Oracle’s chamber away from the public altar, rose her eyes from the basin full of water and laurel leaves she stared into; the spirit of the Python hissing in her veins.
Pythia rose from her perch and marched into the communal side of the temple, causing an uproar.
The high priestess rushed to the Oracle, frightened by her presence on a day she was not meant to be consulted, but before the woman could inquire to the Oracle what had moved her to seek the crowd, she spoke, facing in the general direction of the healers section.
“I am Pythia, Oracle of Delphi, servant of Apollo, god of prophecy and Seers, hear my voice and heed my warning.”
The Oracle walked to the cluster of healers with eyes glowing and hair flowing, despite de fact that there was no wind inside the temple. Her white chiton barely covered her thighs and her feet were bare. She made no sound as she walked a straight line almost in front of Apollo, who was all but powerless to make her stop once she started proclaiming her prophecies. At the last second, Pythia turned her face to a trembling Katniss.
“You, who fear great losses, will be overcome by hope.
Don’t let the emotions fool you, don’t run away from fear. Embrace your weakness, let go of the sorrow. Welcome freedom and hold fast to the rising sun, the dandelion in the spring, the promise of a better dawn.
Don’t be fooled by the arrow and the storm.
Time is upon you, and the trials ahead will rival the all the quests of the heroes of old. Hold fast to the dandelion in the spring. Do not fear the fate of a full heart.
Follow the raven, Mockingjay.”
Pythia stumbled backwards, and Apollo caught her in his arms gently, turning her over to the priests to look after her. When Apollo looked back, the three women were gone.
At least he had a name to go on.