Old man Asclepius, wise and mighty healer, made his way slowly up the craggy steps that led to the Hollows. There, his five young daughters had already gathered around the Story Fire. He wistfully remembered the days when he could outpace them, but like all things, those days had come to pass.
The serpent that coiled around his walking staff hissed; perhaps in agreement, or maybe to ward off the murder of crows that circled overhead. Asclepius’ aging eyes could barely make them out against the dark, angry skies; however, he knew they made him out clearly.
“The sins of the father…” he muttered to himself; the serpent hissed back in rejoinder.
Asclepius paused and gave the serpent a stern look.
The snake demurred. Meanwhile, the crows tightened their circle.
The Story Fire grew larger as he made his way up the ancient stairs. After a few more steps, he could make out the outlines of his daughters, all huddled around the undying flame. One stood out against the others, calling out to him.
It was Hygiea. She ran forward to help her father finish the ascent.
He smiled to himself. Ah, to be young again.
The trees in the Hollows were barren, dead except for the flickering of the Story Fire. Perched on one of the branches sat a crow, cawing mournfully.
Or perhaps it was hinting at something more sinister.
Hygeia gently grabbed his arm and led him to the fire pit.
His other daughters came forward, engulfing him in warm embraces.
Even under the bitter skies, he felt comforted as he sat down next to the Story Fire.
Hygeia spoke first.
“Tell us about your parents, father.”
“Your grandfather was the wise centaur, Chiron. You know that.”
The crow cawed, and the serpent hissed, both rebuking his statement.
“Your real parents, father.”
The old man sighed, and then pointed his staff, serpent and all, at the crow.
“Is this what you came for?”
He saw the look in the bird’s eyes. They held nothing but contempt as they flickered in the light of the Story Fire.
“Your grandfather was a god. Perhaps the most powerful god after Zeus himself.”
The girls’ eyes widened.
“Dionysus?” shrieked one.
“Hades?” pleaded another.
“Poseidon?” implored the youngest.
Hygeia shushed her sisters.
“Please continue, father.”
“Apollo, god of the sun, god of prophecy. Still, he couldn’t foretell the vagaries of the human heart.”
The crow cawed again and left its perch on the dead tree to sit next to Asclepius.
This time it was the old man who eyed the bird with contempt. Still, he let it sit next to him.
“Your grandmother was a princess named Coronis. And though she was loved by a god, her heart was swayed by a mortal. So human…”
He trailed off for a minute.
“Crow was once white, you see. And Crow knew your grandmother’s indiscretion.”
He looked down at the bird next to him.
Crow simply cawed his innocence.
“Crow went to Apollo and told him of her affair.”
Hygeia grew pale.
“What did Apollo do?”
“He burned. He burned with the fury of a thousand, thousand suns. In his rage, he burned Crow, turning him from white to black. And as for Coronis, your grandmother…”
Hygeia peered into her father’s eyes. She had never seen him cry before.
“She was with child. I alone was spared the fury of Apollo.”
The crow cawed again, as if it was vindicated, and took flight.
As it flew off, it dropped something.
Asclepius wiped his eyes and woefully addressed his children.
“The hour grows late. Time to leave.”
The old man got up, followed by four of his daughters.
Hygeia, however, lingered a moment.
She bent down to examine what the crow had left behind.
Gently, she lifted it up, and examined it in the light of the Story Fire.
It was a single white feather.
She paused for a moment. And then, without a second thought, she tossed the feather into the flames.
Burn, she thought to herself. Burn.
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