There was dead silence for about five minutes following Aphrodite’s blessing. I can’t begin to speculate as to everyone else’s thoughts. Mine were entirely focused – nay, obsessed – with her choice of the word meet. Her subtle emphasis on that word hadn’t been lost on me. This was her revenge for my refusal of her offer. If the Fates chose either Apollo or me as the beneficiary of her blessing, it would mean we had no future together. Meet. The ones to fulfill the prophecy couldn’t be people the beneficiaries already knew. Worst of all, I had met all the gods and goddesses who would be attending the games. I knew Apollo had, too. If we were the ones, that must mean our true loves were mortal. As I’ve mentioned, mortal lovers have this tendency to die, something I’d seen Apollo suffer far too often. Sure, once in a blue moon Zeus will turn a god’s mortal lover into a demigod, but demigods can still be killed by gods even though they can’t die natural deaths. Calliope’s son and now Apollo’s served as a clear reminder of this tragic reality.
“Mom?” a young, impatient voice pierced the silence.
“How long have you been here?” Aphrodite cheerfully took Eros’ hand. Nothing in her countenance indicated any awareness of the effect her blessing had had on the room.
“Long enough to wonder if I count as one of the gods here,” he said, “because there are some really hot goddesses and demigoddesses on the guest list.”
“Oh, baby,” she laughed, giving him a bear hug, “you really think there’s a girl out there who can clip your wings?” Eros’ expression was a most amusing paradox of the mortification of being publicly shown affection by his mother and the smugness of knowing that every god in the room, and possibly a goddess or two, would give a couple of limbs to trade places with him.
“Aw, who’s Mommy’s little love god?” I teased.
“Hey, you watch it,” he warned with wicked glee, breaking away from Aphrodite and flying toward my end of the table. He took an arrow from his quiver. We all ducked. Athena raised her shield. However, instead of shooting the arrow, Eros just dropped it on the table in front of me. “Check out the arrowhead,” he urged. I made a close visual inspection without touching it. This was a different kind of gold than he normally used. It had a lovely pink tint to it. I made a mental note to keep it in mind the next time I’d make jewelry.
“Does it have different powers, or is the color just cosmetic?” I asked.
“It’s like the yellow gold arrows, but different,” he explained. “Instead of making you fall in love with the first person you see, you fall for someone you’re already attracted to, whether you know you are or not. But if you aren’t attracted to someone at all, there’s no effect.”
“Please tell me the lead arrows still work as an antidote,” I said.
“Well, yeah, but why would you want an antidote? These work on people who already want each other.”
“Because wanting something doesn’t always mean you should have it,” Apollo answered before I could.
“You can’t always have what you want,” my sisters and I harmonized.
“Whatever. You guys want a demonstration?” Eros offered.
“I’ll do it,” Urania quickly raised her hand. “What? My stars say I should be open to new opportunities.”
Eros swept the arrow off the table and into his bow. Urania stood still as he fired at her. The arrow hit her right in the sternum. She indifferently pulled it out, quite unharmed. “Hermes, you want to be my date for the Games?” she asked with the same apparent indifference as she sat back down.
“Sure,” he accepted, surprised but pleased. “My stars say never to turn down a date from a gorgeous astronomy goddess.”
“No, they don’t,” she said.
With the dove wings on his ankles, he flew over to her seat and took her hand. “Show me,” he challenged.
“You’re on.” They went outside to settle their debate.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen,” Eros bowed in triumph to his bemused audience, “is just a taste of what you can expect to see over the next week. Zeus and Hera said I could use the rose gold arrows at the games all I want.”
“Zeus and Hera?” I repeated.
“Yeah. Hera did add a stipulation: I’m not allowed to shoot anyone who’s already married. Naturally, though, she and Zeus are the exception to the rule. I tried the arrows out on them already. For the moment, they’re nuts about each other.”
The idea of Zeus and Hera being “nuts about each other” was as unnerving as it was bizarre. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely an attraction there. Contrary to certain human rumors which Zeus may or may not have started, Zeus did NOT force Hera to marry him. No one can force Hera to do anything. No, they chose each other from the beginning. Both of them wanted to rule the gods, and each of them knew the other was the only child of the Titans strong enough to be a real threat to that ambition.
Though their marriage was primarily a political alliance of the “keep your enemies closer” variety, it wasn’t without passion in the beginning. Hera was enthralled by the romance and intrigue of a union of rivals, and Zeus…well, Zeus thought Hera was hot. And that ridiculous rumor about their honeymoon lasting three hundred years? Man, you mortals and your erotic fanfic. Do you have to sensationalize everything? It was only one hundred years, you pervs.
But needless to say, once the honeymoon was over, it was over. Zeus went back to being the skirt-chasing man whore he’d always been, and Hera became obsessed with punishing him and his mistresses without breaking the terms of their carefully crafted alliance. Every now and then they’ll act like they like each other for awhile, but it’s usually because one or both of them is up to something. We all walk on eggshells while this is going on, and we’re always relieved when they start fighting again and things are back to normal.
So I was fascinated by the idea that Eros may have invented something to keep them blissfully infatuated with each other. Zeus and Hera were a particularly interesting test case. Would the effect of the arrow keep its subject’s affection directed only at its object, or could the subject be attracted to other objects as well? Were the effects permanent, or would they wear off eventually? We’d gotten Zeus and Hera’s joint RSVP over two months ago. That must have been when Eros shot them. Apparently the effects hadn’t worn off yet.
I grabbed Eros before he could teleport and pulled him into the vestibule where I could talk to him alone. “I get it,” he grinned. “You want to use the rose arrows, but you don’t want Apollo to know. Hold still.”
“No,” I stopped him. “No arrows. I just wanted to ask you a question. Did you use the rose arrows on your mom?”
“You think I would use my own mother for such an experiment?” he said, making a dramatic show of righteous indignation. “I would never do such a thing. Test an untested product on my mother! I’m a good kid. I love my mom.” He sighed. “Everyone loves my mom.”
“And she loves everyone,” I realized aloud. “You wouldn’t use it on your mom because you don’t know if she’d pick your dad.” Genuine undiluted sympathy, no sarcasm added. Available for a limited time only.
“It’s different with Zeus and Hera,” he said. “No matter how many chicks or dudes he bangs and what a psycho she is, at least they can always look back on a time when he was hot for her and she was hot for him. I don’t know if my parents even have that.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.” I’d known his parents forever, and I honestly couldn’t say whether Aphrodite had ever been attracted to Hephaestus beyond convenience, nor for that matter could I say that Hephaestus would be as much in love with Aphrodite if he were blind.
“It’s no big deal,” he brushed it off. “Hey, stop by the beauty pageant tomorrow if you get a chance, okay? I’m judging.”
“Yeah, so’s Terpsichore. I already promised her I’d check in. Remember, don’t take bribes unless they’re any good,” I solemnly warned him. “By the way, as much as it pains me to say this, good job breaking the tension with that joke about your mom’s blessing. Couldn’t have done better myself.”
“Duh, since you weren’t,” he smirked. “I don’t know why the room went dead, anyway. True love. Who wouldn’t want that?”
“For a love god, you sure don’t know much about the subject. It’s all a joke to you, isn’t it?”
“And for a comedy goddess, you sure can’t find much to laugh about when it comes to love.”
“Believe me,” I promised, “when you fall in love, I’ll laugh.”
After we went to bed, I sneaked out to see Pegasus. I like talking to him. He’s the perfect conversationalist. Apollo must have felt the same way, because he was already in Pegasus’ stall when I got there. “You should be asleep,” he admonished me, as pleased with himself at having caught me out past unofficial curfew as he was aware of his own hypocrisy. “I have half a mind to take you back to your room and put you to bed myself,” he teased.
“Look at you, being all authoritative,” I replied with a condescending smile. “You’d think you were in charge or something.” I went around to the other side of Pegasus and started finger combing the stallion’s silver-white mane, a task that demanded the full attention of my eyes and hands.
“Not long until Asclepius gets here,” I commented. Asclepius, his wife Epione, and their nine children had taken jobs as resident physicians for the duration of the Games. This would be the first time Apollo and Asclepius had seen each other since Asclepius’ at-death experience.
“Just a matter of hours,” Apollo confirmed as he stroked a brush across Pegasus’ back.
“How much do Epione and the kids know?” I asked quietly.
“Hardly anything. They know he was missing for awhile, and they know it’s better for all of them if they don’t try to find out why.”
“So, they know even more than I do,” I nodded.
“It’ll be great to see them,” I said, returning to normal volume. “I know things’ll be crazy during the Games, but I hope I’ll have some time to spend with Aglaea.” Each Muse has a godchild among Asclepius’ children. Aglaea, the youngest, is mine.
“I’ll definitely make some time for Asclepius, even if it’s only while we’re setting up the medic tents. Do you think your contestants are ready?” he changed the subject.
“As ready as they’ll ever be,” I said confidently. “I have high hopes for the woman with the frog chorus. But for now, I’m mostly concentrating on the opening exhibition.”
“You’ll be great,” he encouraged me. “Your dancing’s really improved.”
“Improved? My dancing was awesome to begin with.”
“Relatively speaking, but you were the weakest in the group when I first started training you. Now you’re as good as any of your sisters, except Terpsichore, of course. What was that dance you taught Aglaea when she was little?” he laughed at the memory. Aglaea’s childhood was centuries in the past. In fact, thanks to the human blood on her father’s side, she looks about ten years older than us now.
“The Dance of the Felled Trees,” I reminded him. “That was not bad dancing, it was great slapstick. And Aglaea loved it.”
“I never said it wasn’t entertaining,” he acknowledged. “Remember, I even gave you two a name for your dance troupe?”
“‘The Graces’,” I laughed.
“You were so good with her when she was little. I’ve often wondered why you never had children of your own,” he remarked.
“Have you been talking to my mother?” I teased. “Seriously, though, I don’t know if you knew this, but Mom didn’t give us the power to make our own children the way she made us. She wanted us to produce offspring with worthy gods whose powers would complement ours.”
“I didn’t know that,” he said, surprised by this gap in his Muse-related intelligence.
“It’s not really common knowledge.”
“So why haven’t you?”
“I’ve never been in a relationship where it seemed like a good idea,” I replied. “You remember how it was with Calliope’s family? I’d want it to be like that. Minus the whole ‘my lover and child dying’ part.”
“A happy ending,” he smiled in a contemplative sort of way. “It would be your story. Maybe it could happen.”
“So you think we control our own destinies when it comes to love?” I pondered, my mind floating back to Aphrodite’s terrifying blessing as I was finishing Pegasus’ forelock.
“I think you’re a much more powerful goddess than anyone realizes, you included,” he replied. “Maybe even close in power to the Fates.”
“Well, I won’t be very powerful tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep,” I reluctantly acknowledged. “See you in the morning.”
Sleep = rest. Ha ha. That’s one of the funniest thoughts I’ve ever had. See, I forgot about this little thing called dreaming.
Have you ever asked yourself who guards the guardians? The answer is the Fates, a trio of goddesses to whom even Zeus and Hera, even the Titans, must answer. No one knows where they came from or how long they’ve governed Earth and her gods. Maybe they were there since before the Earth and the Sky conceived the Titans. We’ll never know. They haven’t told, and we don’t dare ask.
That night, I had no sooner drifted off to sleep than I found myself in the company of the Fates in their tower at the top of the universe. Clotho sat at her spinning wheel, Lachesis measured each new thread with her rod, and Atropos stood ready with a pair of shears. Each thread, I knew, represented a life.
The raven-haired triplet goddesses were cold and austere. I’d heard that however tall you are, they’re twice as tall. It was true. Their tower was dark, lit only by the stars, the Fates’ gleaming white robes, and a light coming from Clotho’s spinning wheel.
And a spotlight that shone directly on me.
“So,” said Clotho, her voice deep and hollow, “Apollo believes your powers can rival ours, does he?”
“I don’t think ‘rival’ was his exact word,” I pointed out.
“We know what he meant,” said Atropos as she carelessly snipped a thread. “He thinks you can ordain a happy ending regardless of our decrees.”
“He says stuff he doesn’t mean all the time,” I assured them. “Remember when he said he’d ground me for a decade if I started one more food fight? I did; he didn’t.” Meanwhile, Lachesis was measuring me with her rod. I stood on my tiptoes. She put her enormous hand on my head and pushed me back to my flat feet.
“Her measure is greater than we had thought,” said Lachesis, showing her sisters a mark on the rod. “Perhaps we have underestimated Mnemosyne’s daughters. I believe a trial is in order.”
“Yes,” said Clotho. “The Pythian Games. You have blessed all in attendance with laughter and happy endings. It was a general blessing, and not a very powerful one. We’d like you to try again.”
“You want me to repeat the blessing?”
“No, we want you to give a new one,” she impatiently reiterated. “One to only a few. Choose one subplot among the greater story, one scene in the play, one image of the great tapestry. Only choose not your own.”
One subplot among the greater story. They were speaking my language. I thought about everyone who would be at the Games. I recalled Apollo’s words when we’d healed Echo – that I needed to know the whole story. So I chose a story I knew from the beginning, one that seemed to have no happy ending in sight. “Hephaestus’ family,” I said. “Him, Aphrodite, Eros. A happy ending for the three of them as a family.”
“You have chosen a hard trial indeed,” said Atropos. “The love gods are the only ones we know of who can dream of influencing the Fates.”
“Isn’t dreaming of influencing the Fates what I’m literally doing right now?”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer another choice?” Clotho offered, ignoring my quip. “Only Hephaestus, perhaps?”
I thought of Aphrodite’s words when I had rejected her offer of a love spell. And yet I have more power, more influence, and a seat among the Twelve. I’m nearly as good as the Fates for guiding people’s lives. But now it seemed I might be, too. And the Fates were giving me a chance to prove it.
“I’m sure. A happy ending for the three of them. For the family.”
“The die is cast, then,” said Atropos. “We’ll be keeping our eye on you.”