What can you do
When your mother states
"You're on the shelf,
Past your sell-by-date"? ... [+]
Helios spent his nights feasting in his luxurious estate on Mount Olympus while the sun slumbered in a flameproof barn. The gods' mechanics tinkered with the chariot, and Aithops, Bronte, Euos, and Sterope—the four incombustible palomino stallions that hauled the sun's fierce fire—rested in opulent stables.
That day started as every other. The sun's guardians opened the barn doors, allowing pre-dawn light to wash over the estate. In the stable loft, a stripling boy exploded from his nest, his movements filling the air with the honeyed fragrance of hay. The boy had a pale, round face topped with untidy blonde hair. His blue eyes were alight with energy as he leapt from sleep, ready to make his dreams come true—his dreams of riding Helios' great stallions.
Anthony had been a groom in Helios' stables since his mother had begged the god to give him a job when he was sixteen years old. Although he had spent many years now as a groom, his body and mind were as youthful as ever, for that is the way in the timeless realm of the gods.
The magnificent stallions whickered as he approached. They pushed their noses into silver-plated buckets full of golden corn, and he brushed their platinum coats to a mirror sheen. As he fitted their soft leather harnesses, Anthony whispered, "You are too fine to pull carts."
Anthony fixed the yoke as the guardians rolled the sun into its cradle. Behind him, Helios marched to his chariot, roaring like a thousand hungry flames. Standing proud, he shook the reins. The horses took the strain, and within minutes Helios was racing around the world.
Helios' servants bustled about the estate, preparing for their master's return. But in the hayloft, Anthony was plotting.
"FOOD!" Helios roared as he strode into his palace.
Behind him, the guardians released the sun's disk from its cradle and rolled it into the barn. Full dark fell as they closed the doors.
Anthony unhitched the horses and led them to the stables for a refreshing draught of water from Mount Olympus' enchanted wells.
Using a rough brush, Anthony teased out the sparks caught in the lovely manes and tails of Aithops, Bronte and Euos. Sterope he left ungroomed. He would need the lights to guide his way.
When the noise of Helios' feasting died down, Anthony climbed onto Sterope's back, grasped a handful of his silky mane, and leaned forward. Sterope leapt into a gallop. Unfettered by the sun's weight, he ran faster than light, his stride lengthening, hooves barely striking the earth. Anthony lifted his head and dared to unclasp his hands from Sterope's mane. He spread his arms out wide. They were flying around the world, swift and silent. The wind of their passing freed sparks of sunlight from Sterope's mane and tail. Some rose into the sky; others fell to the earth.
As they crept back to the stables, Anthony noticed that the night sky was no longer black. It was dotted with tiny lights.
Helios will never know, he thought as he snuggled into the hay.
Anthony watched as the sparks rose up and settled in the night sky. I shall call you stars, he thought. You will bring comfort to the people of earth during the dark hours. Helios will never suspect.
But Anthony had forgotten about the sparks that had fallen to earth.
One summer day, Helios returned hours earlier than expected. His servants scrambled into action.
"HALT!" Helios shouted. "Something is wrong. The earth is covered in yellow flowers that dare to turn their bright faces to me and grow near tall enough to leap onto my chariot."
"Guardians, put the sun away." Helios roared. "Groom, see to my horses. I will have answers."
As the sun was rolled away, darkness fell. Looking up, Helios saw that the velvet perfection of the eclipsed sky was dotted with glittering pearls.
Anthony led the horses away, eager to put some distance between himself and the angry god. A heavy hand fell on his shoulder.
"The new lights and flowers come from these, do they not?" Helios asked, combing his vast fingers through Sterope's tail and coming up with a palm full of bright sparks.
The horses kicked out, jolting Helios' arm and scattering the sparks from his hand. They neighed wildly, settling only when Helios tapped their long noses gently.
Anthony's mouth opened in surprise as the horses spoke in the language of man.
"Master, forgive us. We sought only to enhance your majesty with stars by night and sunflowers for days when clouds obscure the glory of your passage."
The horses arched their graceful necks in supplication.
"Is that right?" Helios grinned, preening at the thought of enhancing his own stature.
Helios again looked up. The stars above shone brilliantly. He recalled the golden swathes of sunflowers, and how superbly they had shone.
"Then we will keep them. But can you do your duties by day and by night?"
"We can with the assistance of our groom," Sterope replied, winking at Anthony with one long-lashed and lovely eye.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the Helianthus flowers, named for their creators, nod and dream of chariots of fire.