Chapter 1: Spin, Measure, Snip!
1 Spin, Measure, Snip!
THE THREE FATES ARRIVED AND quickly sat side by side on a fluffy cloud high in the star-filled night sky above Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain in Greece. They were sisters. Clotho was the youngest, at age eleven. Her long black hair had blue highlights. Twelve-year-old Lachesis’s brown hair was streaked with purple. Red-haired Atropos was thirteen.
Out of nowhere, a white scroll made of glowing mist appeared to float in the air alongside them, unrolling itself till it was about ten feet long. This was the Destiny List. It held the names of all the mortal babies born (or about to be born) today. Slowly the scroll began to weave and curl itself around and among the sisters.
Like all goddessgirls, the three Fates possessed a great magical talent. Theirs was the ability to predict events that would happen throughout the lifetime of each and every mortal on Earth! (Also known as their fate or destiny.)
However, this ability required a team effort. It only worked when the sisters met together, like now, each playing her particular role, and each following the rules that had been set for them by Zeus, the King of the Gods and Ruler of the Heavens. Clotho’s sisters loved rules. Knowing exactly what was expected of them made them feel comfy and calm. However, sometimes the idea of breaking the rules seemed more exciting to Clotho. Because that meant something surprising could happen. Maybe something fun!
Zeus’s Rule #1 dictated each of the Fates’ individual jobs. Clotho’s began when she leaned over and peered at a newborn mortal’s name and accompanying short description at the top of the misty list. The first half of her job was to announce this information.
“Tantalus, a mortal Greek boy,” she read aloud.
“Happy birthday, Tantalus,” Lachesis and Atropos chanted. As their words faded, Tantalus’s name and description vanished from the scroll. Each sister now had one additional, very specific duty to perform in celebration of his birth.
Clotho went first. The remaining (and super-important) half of her job was to spin his Thread of Fate. She grasped her special distaff, a three-foot-long stick with thick, fluffy sheep’s wool wrapped around its top end. The wool resembled cotton candy, except it was beige instead of pink. She clamped one end of the stick between her knees, angling its woolly end to rest against her chest so it stood upright. As one of her hands began twisting raw wool off the distaff into a long thread, it fed onto the spool-like spindle that she dangled from her other hand and set to spinning like a top. Spin!
Once that process was in motion, it was Lachesis’s turn to do her job. She reached over and pulled some of Clotho’s newly spun thread from the spindle. Eyeing it carefully, she pinched her thumb and index finger to mark a place along the thread’s length. This indicated the length of time Tantalus would live. Measure!
“It is the destiny of all mortals to die one day, but Tantalus’s thread is long,” Lachesis commented, sounding happy about that.
Atropos leaned forward, nodding. “A sign of good fortune.” The blades of her fancy silver scissors flashed. In an instant she cut the thread to the exact length Lachesis had indicated with her fingers. Snip!
Now each of the sisters solemnly grasped the cut length of thread. On the count of three they let go, their fingers releasing it at the exact same moment. Like a kite tail, the thread floated in a slow, serpentine motion up toward the heavens. As it rose, a few small dark spots appeared upon it here and there. These represented times of trouble or sadness that would occur during this mortal boy’s life. However, many small sparkles appeared along the thread too. These represented times of joy and celebration. The Fates could read the spots and sparkles and knew what each one meant.
“Looks like Tantalus will enjoy a mostly happy life,” murmured Lachesis, sounding pleased.
Atropos nodded in satisfaction. “His parents will love him well.”
Clotho smiled, watching the thread containing his fate rise ever upward. Soon they’d send the threads of other newborn mortals to follow it, floating into the sky beyond. Eventually each thread would rise so high that it would disappear somewhere among the stars.
“He’ll have a nice home on Earth too,” Clotho added. She sighed dreamily. If only she herself had a home! Instead, every night she and her sisters met at a different location to work. It was their nature to never need sleep, so during the day they each went wherever they liked and did what they pleased. Basically, the three Fates were nomads. Her sisters were fine with that. But to a girl like Clotho, who would have preferred having one place to call her own, a place she could always return to, their situation was not at all fun.
To her, Tantalus and other mortals like him who had homes of their own seemed super lucky! There were just so many drawbacks to always having to roam. For one thing, she loved animals and wanted a pet. But with the way they moved around so much, that would just be too hard. So, no pets for her. Instead she had recently started knitting pretend pets.
Her gaze fell upon two colorful finger-size animals peeking out of her pocket. The cuddly kitten and pink-eared bunny were actually finger puppets. She’d knitted them and others (such as a pointy-nosed fox, floppy-eared dog, and sweet gray mouse) earlier that day. Over the past weeks, she’d made so many animal puppets that she didn’t know what to do with them all.
Sometimes when she and her sisters arrived at a new place to work for the night, Clotho would arrange these little plush creatures around herself. It comforted her to see them, and was her way of pretending that each of their meeting places was a temporary home. “Nesting,” her sisters called it, as if she were a bird making a cozy nest for herself.
An elbow nudged her ribs. “Ow!” yipped Clotho. She shot Lachesis a surprised look. Then she slid her index finger into the cuddly kitten puppet and, in a squeaky voice, made it pretend speak. “I mean, me-OW!” She giggled.
Her sisters rolled their eyes, grinning at her fondly. “What are you, three years old?” teased Atropos.
Clotho grinned back. “Maybe I’m just young at heart!” It was a phrase she’d read in a scrollbook one time: It meant that you liked playing and doing fun things no matter how old you got.
“C’mon. We’ve got a lot of NFs to get through,” said Lachesis, pointedly looking from Clotho to the Destiny List. (NF was short for “newborn fates.”) After Tantalus’s name had disappeared from the scroll, the name below it had moved up to the top. And new names were always being magically added at the bottom of the wispy scroll list, every time another mortal baby was about to be born. Therefore, the list was never-ending.
“Okay, sorry,” Clotho said. There was a time for work and a time for play, and right now it was work time! Quickly she stuffed the kitten puppet back into her pocket, then glanced at the new name at the top of the list. “Meleager, a mortal Greek prince,” she announced.
“Happy birthday, Prince Meleager,” chanted her two sisters.
As Clotho spun his length of thread, she wondered what kind of home Meleager would have. A castle, probably. Hmm. What would my perfect home look like? she mused.
It didn’t have to be fancy. It should have three rooms, one for each sister. They wouldn’t need beds, though, since they never slept. Some hangout space, work space, and a kitchen would be good. Although the Fates didn’t need to eat any of the foods that mortals ate, they sometimes did. Because food could be yummy!
She imagined her own room and how she might decorate it. It would have a closet for clothes and some shelves for her puppets and yarn and stuff. If she had her own room, she could keep her things organized. It would mean no more packing up her belongings into her oversize travel bag every morning in order to lug it onward to someplace new.
Speaking of her belongings, just then the cloud she and her sisters were sitting on shape-shifted and shrank a little. This caused her bag to tip over and fall open. Her favorite pink knitting needles rolled out and were teetering on the edge of the cloud, about to fall. Oh no! Abandoning her spinning for just a sec, she made a grab for the needles. Got ’em! Quickly, she sat back up, temporarily tucking the knitting needles in her lap.
Then, realizing what she’d just done, her heart sank. She’d broken Zeus’s Rule #2. That was: Never interrupt the telling of a fate. Such an interruption could mess up a mortal’s whole life!
Desperately, Clotho spun faster, trying to make up for lost time. But in her haste she spun out a longer thread for Prince Meleager than she’d meant to. It was so long that it got tangled and knotted, making it appear to be shorter than it actually was. And much shorter than Tantalus’s thread had been.
Luckily, her sisters didn’t notice. They were busy chatting about whether the cloud they all sat on was nimbus or cumulus and wondering if it might bring rain before sunrise, causing them to have to relocate from a soggy perch.
Seconds later, Lachesis measured and Atropos snipped. After her silver scissors flashed, they all three released Meleager’s thread. Her sisters began to speak in sad, soft voices, saying something about a log burning in a fireplace. And how Meleager’s life would be short, ending once the log became ashes.
Warily, Clotho watched Prince Meleager’s thread float upward. Instead of gliding smoothly like all the threads before it, it jerked along like an inchworm. To her surprise, one of these jerks caused it to briefly tangle with Tantalus’s thread before the two threads separated again and continued to rise. What did it mean? Had the two boys’ fates somehow become entwined?
Meanwhile, her sisters’ attention had shifted and they hadn’t seemed to notice what was going on with the threads. Instead, their eyes were on the rescued knitting needles sitting in her lap.
“You should put those in your bag,” Atropos scolded. She could sometimes be as snippy as her scissors! “What if they rolled off your lap, tumbled down to Earth, and poked some poor mortal in the top of the head?”
“Yeah, Zeus would not be happy about that,” added Lachesis mildly. She almost always spoke in a calm way many would describe as “measured.”
Clotho nodded meekly and did as Lachesis suggested. Zeus might not have an actual rule against poking mortals in the top of the head, but it was likely he wouldn’t appreciate her doing that. Still, the risk of those knitting needles falling was the least of her worries right now. Meleager’s too-long, tangled, knotted thread was far more problematic. Had she accidentally spun the mortal prince’s life out longer than it was meant to be? Had that changed his destiny? Maybe Tantalus’s, too?
The Fates’ job was to set every mortal’s destiny in motion. They were knot—er, not—supposed to interfere with that destiny.
Her sisters hadn’t seemed to notice her mistake, but had Zeus? Clotho hunched her shoulders, her brown eyes nervously darting around the sky as she tucked the pink needles away in her bag and set it upright again. As King of the Gods and Ruler of the Heavens, Zeus was a mega-powerful guy (with a mega-powerful temper to match!). Still, as far as she knew, he couldn’t see everything that went on everywhere all the time. At least she hoped not. She really didn’t want him mad at her and her sisters. He might smite them with a white-hot thunderbolt or something! Fingers crossed he’d never find out about her mistake.
“Hello?” Lachesis nudged her again and nodded toward the mist list. “Honestly, where is your head tonight? We need to get a move on.”
Clotho knew she should admit to her sisters what had just happened. And she didn’t exactly decide not to. It was only that the moment had passed. And it simply became easier not to mention her rule-break mistake than to admit it and stir up trouble.
As she read the next name on the list, she relaxed. No thunderbolts in sight. It looked like everything would be okay. Phew! That was a close call. She did her best to convince herself that messing up Meleager’s thread wouldn’t change anything. That she’d escaped trouble. Because that was what she wanted to believe.
Though she and her sisters could read the destinies of others, they couldn’t even begin to guess their own. So right then, Clotho had no way of knowing that a mere twelve years from this very date, both of the mortal boys whose threads she’d just spun would bring her trouble. Mighty Trouble, with a capital M as in Meleager and a capital T as in Tantalus.