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1: DAUGHTER OF THE MOON
24 August 1893
Strange how our names become our fate. No matter my fate, given a choice, still I would choose that name: Arethusa, nymph of the old world, daughter of the moon. Is the name a curse or a blessing? Perhaps neither. Perhaps my mother has merely destined me for a love of watery things. It is true. The sea is in my blood, slipping quicksilver through my veins. And the Moon Goddess is to be my mistress. No more Eva now. No more a daughter of God.
Eva’s fingers shook as she held the match to the candlewick. The chill night air seeped through her thin shift. Even in deep summer, Massachusetts still clung to the remnants of spring when the sun sank below the foothills. But it was not the wind that gave her shivers.
“Calm down,” Mãe said, laying her hand over Eva’s to still them. “Your Pai will be gone for hours and Artemis will rise soon enough.”
Eva held the match closer to the candle. The wind snatched out the flame with a huff. Her hand trembled when she drew another match, and she hated that her mother saw it.
With the changing of her name, she would deny her father’s faith and embrace her mother’s. A simple choice. And a dangerous one. A pagan in a Catholic world had need of secrecy and courage. But for her it was more than a question of faith. This choice would direct her destiny. Her namesake was a nymph devoted to Artemis, Goddess of the Moon. A nymph who was chased by the obsessive river god Alpheus into the depths of the sea and back. Yet in the end, Alpheus found Arethusa and merged his waters with hers until they became one.
She knew that this would be her fate. But it was not the Catholic fate of heaven or hell. It was a kind of immortality. A deathless death. She feared this most of all. When she was joined to Alpheus, would she cease to exist? Would her soul be lost?
For many years, she had known this day was coming. Her mother had taught her the old sabbats and rites and, for Mãe’s sake, had practiced these secret rituals over and over. At first, Eva felt torn—it was so different from Pai’s strict Catholic sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation—but over time, Mãe’s beliefs had become her own. Despite her fleeting doubts, she knew she would not hesitate when it came time to give her promise. It was not in her nature to falter. And she dared not falter now.
Mãe laid the matches next to the other items on the makeshift altar, a boulder hidden in a copse behind the farmhouse, and took Eva’s hands in hers. Her mother’s fingers were warm despite the sharp coil of the night wind.
“What is it?” Mãe’s eyes penetrated hers even in the murky hour before moonrise. “When you come before Artemis, you cannot doubt her.”
Mãe knows me so well. Eva glanced down at their clasped hands, unable to look at her mother.
“You have to stay strong. The Goddess has very few followers left in the world. Certainly none that I know of among the Azoreans, save my mother, and she herself was guided into the old ways by a pagan traveler from Europe.”
Eva considered this. “What will it feel like when I make my vow?”
“It will be a sea-change. You think that you understand, that you believe. But when you give your promise, when you change your name, your belief will be just the beginning. You will be transformed. You will see with new eyes.”
“I will turn to water?”
“Yes, in a way. I, myself, do not fully understand how the goddess’s powers work.”
“And this river god . . . Who is he?”
“He is both a god and a man. And he will be someone different for you than he was for me.”
“Were you afraid of him?”
“At first.” Mãe smiled and shook her head. “But I grew to love him and I love him still.”
“What about Pai?—”
“You hush about Eduardo. He . . .” Mãe didn’t finish, but smoothed her nightgown absently.
Arethusa peered at her mother. She could only wonder at her mother’s marriage to such a cold, disagreeable man.
“I’m not sure I understand—”
“Take your vow, Eva.” Mãe stopped her with a squeeze of the hand. “Take your new name. We’ll soon be sailing back to the Azores Islands, and there—where I was born, where you were conceived, where all of this began—your fears will pass into understanding.”
This was some comfort. The doubt in Eva’s heart seemed to bend now, allowing her space to breathe and think and let go. And she did breathe, deep and full. Then she struck a new match. The spark kindled a bit of hope in her heart as she lit the candle. Yes, she would take her name, her vow. She would accept and follow.
She felt Mãe’s hand on her shoulder.
Eva glanced up. Though she hadn’t broken the tree line yet, the Goddess had already fired the tops of the distant maples and pines with the spindly orange flames of her moonlight.
“Artemis is rising,” Eva whispered.
“It’s time,” Mãe said. She bowed her head and held up to the light her most prized possession, her moonstone pendant. She never told Eva where it had come from, but she never let it out of her sight. “Close your eyes and fix your thoughts on Artemis’s light as it fills the circle, as it fills the moonstone, giving it power.”
With her eyes shut tight, Eva’s other senses were heightened. She smelled the warm smoke of the candle flame, touched the grit of the boulder’s rough surface, pictured Artemis’s light descending on their small circle like a cataract. The beam poured into the moonstone, and when Eva felt the Goddess’s pale touch on her face, she wondered how she could ever have doubted. She need only turn toward this palpable light and let go of her fear. She did so, knowing that within this circle she was safe. She was home.
A touch on her arm.
“Do you hear that?” Mãe whispered.
A rustling in the corn stalks came from the direction of the farmhouse. Eva’s breath came quick.
No, her father would be at the shipyard in New Bedford for hours yet, drowning another day in a pitcher of beer.
“It’s nothing. Just a vole or a red fox,” Eva reassured her.
“No, querida,” Mãe said, glancing toward the corn stalks. “It’s him.”
“Mãe, he wouldn’t be—” Eva began. Then she heard them. Footsteps. Through the garden. The angry thump-thump of heavy boots resounded in the soil.
The candlelight was dim, but it couldn’t mask the dread passing over her mother’s tense face. Eva prayed for the Goddess to surround her mother with protection. She knew Pai had long held his suspicions, but when he saw the candlelit circle and the ritual objects of incense, rose, water, moonstone, and salt, when he saw them kneeling before the moon in the deep of night, he would know beyond doubt that the rumors were true.
“Stay quiet,” Mãe whispered. “Promise me: no matter what happens, you will not interfere.”
Eva shook her head, tried to speak, tried to tell her mother that she would somehow protect her, but her tongue felt like lead. She had nowhere to hide, no way to run. The familiar fear made her mouth go dry and her breath come in hollow bursts, as if her ribcage would fall right through her chest.
Her father burst through the last of the garden’s corn stalks. Eva jumped to her feet. She smelled the workday sweat on his body as he advanced. The rising shadow at his back threw his thick muscles into relief against the corn stalks. The moonlight encased him in silver, but the candlelight exposed the horror in his eyes and the saddle latigo swinging at his side. When his wild gaze swept the circle, a flash of alarm crossed his face. But Eva knew his anger would master him soon. It always did.
“A witch.” His voice cracked as the word filled his mouth. “A pagan. Is that why your father gave you to me? So he wouldn’t have to live with the shame?” He shook his head, closed his eyes, and breathed in heavy gasps. When he opened his eyes again, the horror had passed into accusation. “And all the rumors around town . . . I would have loved you, Maria, but you’ve betrayed me—” He broke off into a cry of frustration and turned away. It was then that he noticed Eva in the shadows.
“You poisoned my daughter with this”—he stepped back, jabbed a finger in the air toward the circle—“this witchcraft. The priests will excommunicate her. The people will shun her. You would sentence your own flesh and blood to hell?”
Mãe said nothing, only stared at him, unblinking. But Eva listened to his words. The words hell and excommunicate hung thick in the smoky air of Artemis’s circle, reminding her again of her buried doubts.
“Get up,” Pai said to her mother, his voice low like the growl of a dog. When she did not, he touched the latigo at his belt loop. Eva’s breath caught as she eyed the wide leather strap. He cracked it against his leg. “I’ll not say it again.”
Still, Mãe did not move.
He narrowed his eyes and stamped around the circle, taking care not to step inside the light. “I’ll not harbor a witch in my house. And you won’t be making one of my child. You’ll sail with us to Terceira, Maria, just as we planned. Do you hear me? You’ll sail, but you won’t be coming back. Eva will stay with me. She will be a Catholic, Maria. Do you hear?”
When his voice rose with the last words, her mother’s eyes flared with fury. Yet when she spoke, every word was slow and deliberate.
“Take my daughter from me, and you’ll not live out the year. I swear it by the Goddess. I swear it on my own life.”
Her father fumbled for the latigo at his waist and lunged across the circle for Mãe. He pushed her up against the altar, knocking over the bowls of salt and water, sticking the rose’s thorns deep into her elbow. Her mother cried out, as much in pain as in anger. Eva saw the pain, the humiliation crossing her mother’s face. She remembered her mother’s words. You will not interfere.
And if he kills you, Mãe, what then? she wanted to say. No, she would not—could not stand by and watch. Eva stretched out a hand to grasp the latigo as he reached back to strike. The strap pulled tight, jerking Eva off her feet.
Pai leaned back, caught off-guard. He did not seem to see her at first. He and Mãe had always had an unspoken rule that she should not come between them. And she never had. Until now.
When his eyes cleared, she saw the workings of his mind playing out on his face. He saw her now as he saw her mother: evil, pagan, to be feared, to be shunned.
Without a word, he made a fist and struck her across the cheek. She saw a flash of light in a whirl of darkness, and, when next she could see and feel, she was staring up at him from the dirt, ears ringing, his image blurring into two. The fire of pain swept over the left side of her face, and the realization of her father’s violence overtook her in an uncontrollable tremor. She had never known true hatred for him until this moment. The revulsion that rocked her body was mirrored in his eyes.
“You are no daughter of mine,” he said, spitting out the words like a curse.
Then he turned back to her mother and showed her the meaning of obedience.
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