This story happened a long time ago, before the Nine were separated, before the dance was forgotten and the temple abandoned. This story is about the time Melpomene went down to the river to talk to Akheloios.
See her standing there in the mud at the edge of the river, young and beautiful and unadorned. Her mouth is grimly set, but there is hope in her eyes. She’s a long way from home, and she’s journeyed on foot from the mountain. She’s homesick, a little, for the little brook beside her mossy bed. Still, she’s come to the crux of the river to find him, because she loves him. This is how these things always are.
Melpomene stands on the riverbank in her pale white dress, as small, incurious fish swim between her legs, searching for smaller fish to eat. She may be prepared to stand there forever. Her dress brushes the surface of the river, catches gently on the swirling current.
“Akheloios,” she calls, in the ancient tongue, which none but the old gods remember now. “I have traveled far to see you. We must have words.”
There’s a ripple in the river as Akheloios emerges, making his way to Melpomene’s side of the river. As he walks, he shakes his golden hair, spreading droplets of water around him. With that movement, Melpomene remembers everything, every moment.
“What do you seek?” He towers over her now, silent. She longs for him to brush the negligent curl from her eye, but his hands are stiff and still.
So she brushes it away herself, and answers: “Come with me.”
He doesn’t make eye contact, instead running a hand through the tranquil water. After a moment, he speaks.
“Melpomene. We will never again be what we were. Stop with these dreams. You of all gods must know that every story ends in tragedy.” He unfolds his fingers, revealing a small, struggling fish gasping for air, which he puts in Melpomene’s unresisting hands.
Then he turns, without looking her in the eyes, and begins to walk away.
But this story happened a long time ago, before Melpomene became what she is now. Melpomene has changed, though she still fulfills her duties. She no longer sees tragedy as a game, or as something only played out on stage. For her, there is the truth of it in every moment. And the truth of the story is this:
Melpomene looks down at the fish, and understands.