Hermes arrived at sunset, although at first, Callidora was unaware of his presence.
Bending over the body in front of her, eyes wreathed in tears, she was effectively blind, doing her work by touch. The lack of vision had actually been a blessing, allowing her to fantasize that this was some other person being prepared for burial, a stranger's body, no one she knew.
Even in her distracted state, there was no way of mistaking his voice as human. It had an almost symphonic undercurrent, a vibrant harmony flowing through every syllable. All of the immortals had this gift of course, but for Hermes, inventor of the lyre, and Apollo, god of music itself, it was even more pronounced.
Straightening, she turned to face him, vainly trying to clear her vision with the end of one sleeve.
Blinking through the tears which refused to clear from her eyes, she noted that the god was standing before her in full regalia. He was holding the snake-entwined caduceus in his right hand, wearing a broad brimmed helm on his head, his feet shod in golden sandals, wings growing from his shoulders. She was no stranger to the immortals, had, in fact, probably seen more of them than most people now living, but they rarely flaunted the symbols of their office so visibly unless something important was at hand.
When she was very young, still learning about the nature of her gift, Callidora had thought that life would never surprise her. She had believed that because she could sometimes foretell the future, that all mysteries would eventually be revealed. Instead, she had learned that the future was a fluid thing, always flowing in different directions, changing depending on people's actions, sometimes fluctuating based on nothing more than one spoken word. There weren't many absolutes, and very few things she could say with certainty.
"But, why are you here?" she stammered, staring at him in confusion. "His psyche must surely be gone now."
"No, Callidora," he said kindly, stretching his left hand towards her, "I'm not here as a guide to the underworld. I have been sent with a message from Apollo."
Her shoulders slumped, and she turned away from him, resuming the task she had to complete before dawn. Hermes was not here to guide her poor broken son's spirit to Hades, but only to deliver a message from the father who had abandoned them both years ago.
She had feared this day, known in her heart just how likely it was to come to pass, but had fooled herself into thinking that it never would. Ordinarily, all the women of the family would be here, bathing the body and dressing it in the finest garments available, but she had insisted on keeping this last preparation private, one final gift of love from mother to son.
"Whatever missive you carry has come too late," she choked out, "my son is dead."
There was silence for a time, and then Hermes said, "I am sorry."
The melodic words sounded so sincere that Callidora could almost believe him. Almost. In the end though, it didn't really matter whether he was sincere or not. Nothing could bring her son back from the depths of Hades.
When Hermes spoke again, his voice was quieter, perhaps muted in deference to her distress. It was possible, she realized, that he had to speak. That once entrusted with a message, he was compelled to deliver it.
"My brother says that he is free to act now, and can kill the assassins responsible for your son's death if you wish it."
The flash of rage which burned its way through her was so completely unexpected that she was unable to move for several seconds. Crouched over her son's corpse, she felt the tears start falling again, a crushing force inside her chest squeezing her lungs until she could barely breathe.
"That's the death gift the shining one has chosen to lay at his son's feet?" she rasped, hating the sound of weakness in her voice. "Revenge?"
"Callidora!" Hermes said, his reproof evident in every syllable of her name. "You of all people must have known this would eventually happen."
Grasping the edge of her son's bier, she levered herself upright, and slowly turned to face him again. It wasn't possible for her to hide in her grief any longer, ignore this unwanted visitor and hope he would eventually go away. His message had been delivered, and now he required an answer.