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White Flowers to the Sea

Jameson Hampton

Jameson Hampton is an adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they'd have time to visit every coffee shop in the world. Their work has been published at moonchild mag, rhythm & bones lit, ghost city press, pollux journal, and others. Find them online at

“Why are you always so hesitant to walk through the portico, traveler?” My voice echoed off the marbled walls, perhaps a little more imposing than I intended. I only wanted to talk. My temple was practically on the edge of the world. I saw many, many travelers come and go, usually staying for a night or two to make preparations for a dangerous journey, say a prayer for protection, and then put out to sea. They didn’t often linger, and this one touched my curiosity. He was small, quiet, unassuming, but his presence had a kind of weight to it in my temple.

The traveler pushed a curl of hair across his forehead and his eyes darted around, as if searching hopefully for another I could be talking to.

“Is my stride so unique? Surely it’s not uncommon for men to tremble as they approach divinity.” His soft voice made him seem even smaller in the cavernous room and he was already dwarfed by the shadows of pillars.

“Mainly sailors grace our halls. Men with more courage than humility. I suspect many of them have only ever trembled when Poseidon alone was there to witness it.”

“Oh.” He seemed disappointed to learn that he stuck out in a crowd. He glanced nervously around again, this time seeming to scan for anyone else listening, but the temple was quiet. It was my chance to perhaps finally learn something about the young man I had been so curious about of late. Every day for a week, he had timidly entered my temple, a white flower held tenderly between his thin fingers. “Well, my grey eyed Lady has been known for her jealousy.”

“Ah, so you are a loyal Athenian. Do you hail from her great city?”

He offered a small, tentative nod. “I was born there, under her watchful eye, but my home is in the surrounding hills. I’m better suited to grass than marble. And... not accustomed to being called traveler.”

“What brings a child of Athena to the shores of Sounion, then, if not a love of the road?”

He frowned and it was like the quality of the air around him changed. He became guarded. It seemed like his eyes darkened, as if a door that was open had suddenly shut, and when he spoke, it was in the dull voice of someone whose heart was elsewhere. “Just here to pay my respects to Poseidon, ℎ𝑖𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑢𝑠.”

I made my best effort to change back the quality of the air with the crinkles around my eyes. “And you will always be welcome, traveler.”

I left him to make his offering, quietly pondering its intention.


The next time I saw the traveler, he was sitting on the southernmost edge of the known world. Idly his fingers wove through a patch of grass beside him, but his eyes never strayed too long from the horizon, aching to find something to latch onto besides endless waves and sky.

I understood then. Someone he loved was out to sea.

I left him alone with his thoughts.


The next time we spoke was the night of the storm.

His sniffling was almost too quiet to hear, but my familiarity with the path that echoes traversed through my temple brought me right to him.

He was soaked to the bone, his chlamys clinging to his tiny frame, sitting in the middle of a splotch of wet marble that marred the otherwise unblemished floor. A loud crack of thunder echoed outside and he flinched as if it had raised its hand to him. I was struck again by how small he seemed. He was surely an adult; was he really so petite or was his timid demeanor coloring my perception?

I gave him what I hoped came off as a warm smile and gently passed him a cup of ca’lida, which he took quietly. “Warm yourself, traveler.”

He stared for a few moments into the wisps of steam rising from the top of his clay vessel. The sweet scent of wine mingled harmoniously with the temple incense, bringing me back to my early days as a priest. I wondered what thoughts the smell conjured for him. After a brief contemplation, he took a sip and it seemed as if a little color returned to his complexion. Slowly, he set the cup on the floor beside him and took a small parcel wrapped in plain cloth. “Would you like to sit with me?”

I sat, and he carefully unwrapped a block of soft cheese, its faint tanginess blending with the scents already in the air. “From my village,” he told me simply, and he shared a piece with me.

“Thank you,” I said, and I meant it.

“Men who show kindness will be shown kindness alike.” He took another sip of the ca’lida and his expression looked almost warm, but then another flash of lightning illuminated the portico and he flinched as the companion roll of thunder followed.

We sat a while in the returning darkness, the sound of the rain unrelenting.

“I’ve seen you looking out over the sea,” I finally said. I hoped I wasn’t pushing him too hard, but it wasn’t in my nature to give up on people. “What are you looking for?”

It was long moments before he answered, but the air didn’t go cold around him like it had before. He was weighing his options; the instinct to keep personal matters to himself struggled against the isolation of being alone for so long in his fear.

“It’s my lover. He was supposed to make land a week ago.” His voice was desperately sad. Naming one’s fears out loud, sharing them with another person, has a way of forcing them to be confronted as reality.

I nodded sympathetically. “He’s an Athenian as well?”

“Well, yes, but aren’t we all? Even Sounion is part of Attica, is it not? But he’s a child of Apollo. You can just tell.” I wanted to ask him how you could tell, but he said it with such surprising finality that I couldn’t bring myself to question him.

“He’s a sailor? A fisherman perhaps?”

The traveler shook his head, still staring into the steam rising from his drink. “He’s a poet. He felt the call of the ocean, said he needed to experience the open water for inspiration. So he took a job as a deckhand, just for a single voyage, as a way to get out and see the world. I could see how regret would eat at him all his life otherwise.”

I wanted to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder but hesitated; there was something about him that seemed so fragile. “I’ve lived here many years and seen many sailors come and go. Many ships have been more than a week overdue for uneventful reasons.”

“I know.” He sighed. “But he’s not a sailor. It's not where his feet belong. What if the ocean can sense that? What if it can sense how scared I am from afar? That’s why I’ve been here making offerings. But apparently, Poseidon hasn’t heard me.”

Outside, thunder cracked once again. I could almost feel the crackle of the lightning hanging in the air even after the afterimage of the bolt faded.

“Storms are part of the natural order of the sea. Nights like this are why we petition Poseidon. You cannot know if your prayers were heard until the clouds clear.” I thought for a moment, memories of other visitors to my temple swirling through my mind.

“I suspect he would look kindly on a child of Apollo whose heart yearned so fiercely for the sea that his feet couldn’t stay where they belong.”

He didn’t quite smile at me, but his eyes crinkled around the edges as if they were smiling. I understood; hope can be as dangerous as it is powerful. He occupied himself with the cheese, cutting two more slices and then passing them both to me. “Thank you, ℎ𝑖𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑢𝑠. For you, and one for the altar. I made this back in my village. It’s from his mother’s recipe. I hope it pleases your temple.”

I told him my temple was grateful to him and I prayed to myself that he could sense how genuinely I meant it.


The next day, in late morning, a ship came into port. I don’t often trouble myself with the endless coming and going of sailors and boats, as it has been a constant in Sounion since before I was born and will persist long after I am gone. But when I woke up the morning after the storm to a cloudless blue sky, I had a good feeling. When the traveler wasn’t where I expected to see him, I knew there was something to it.

Sure enough, I spotted him at the dock, watching intently as the ship pulled in and was moored. I stayed a distance back, quietly hopeful.

When I first saw the poet, I instantly knew it was him somehow. I didn’t even have to see the look on the traveler’s face to be sure. He looked like a child of Apollo, tall and strong and beautiful. His skin was bronzed, his shoulders freckled, a charming windswept cowlick in his hair like the salty breeze of the sea had permanently changed the way it grew. I wondered how different he looked before his journey, as I’m sure a poet’s hands weren’t always calloused the way they were when I saw him. But if he wasn’t meant to be at sea, he certainly adapted to it. Adaptability, a quality that makes a good poet.

I was surprised his lover could find the patience to wait for him to come down the ramp, but then I realized: he couldn’t let himself accept that it was real until his feet were back where they belonged. As soon as his second sandal touched the dirt, the traveler called out for him by name. When their gazes connected, it was like an invisible line had been drawn between them, a path that had to be left empty as they were about to be drawn together with divine force. I thought I felt the crackle of the lightning again from the night before and there was love—the traveler’s desperate relief; the poet’s confident, steadfast devotion; a completeness that wasn’t there before.

They came together and embraced, the small traveler almost disappearing in his partner’s strong arms. They embraced, and a tension in the air that I hadn’t noticed before suddenly cleared and was replaced by comforting stillness. They embraced, and the golden light of the sun bent gently around them, as if to be part of their embrace. And just for a moment, the sun, bright and powerful, existed only for the two of them.

Silently, I thanked Poseidon.

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