The rest of the winter, or what passes for it in Delphi, was pretty uneventful. Then one day Hermes brought news that Persephone had come to visit Demeter. Demeter throws a huge banquet every year to celebrate her daughter’s return, and naturally, we’re always part of the entertainment. Polyhymnia writes an original song that we all sing in chorus (with Apollo as conductor since he became Governor of the Muses), and then we perform a dance to welcome the coming of spring. We always make amazing all-new spring pastel costumes. This year, I was wearing a rosy pink gown that perfectly complemented the sacred ivy and the five kinds of pink flowers that I’d woven into my hair.
Apollo was on stage. My sisters and I were waiting in the wings for our cue, which was taking awhile since Hera had appointed herself MC at this year’s gala. Thanks to her cameo at the Pythian Games, the Queen of the Gods had been bitten by the theater bug.
Terpsichore called me over to the spot from whence she was spying on the audience. “Oh, man, Thalia! Look, look, look! You have to see this! Look, by Hephaestus. Did you know about this? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Alright!” I grinned. “No, I so did not know he was going to bring a date. Good for him. Glad to see he’s putting himself out- oh, man, that’s Aglaea.”
“How cool is this?” Terpsichore bounced on her toes. “If she moves in with him, we’ll get to see her all the time! And she looks incredible. Simple; elegant; her. That pale blue is a nice color for her. I wonder if Aphrodite’s noticed they’re together. Look, there’s Aphrodite, between Ares and Hermes. You think she’s here with both of them?”
“It is possible. Dionysus is sitting pretty close, too,” I observed. “It’s weird, though; she really does seem like less of a slut now that she’s not technically cheating on anyone.” Ares had been her primary lover since the divorce, but neither of them made any pretense at monogamy.
“Ooh, there’s our cue!”
I filed onstage between Terpsichore and Urania. Aglaea smiled and subtly waved at me with one hand as she squeezed Hephaestus’ arm with the other. I promised myself that as soon as we could sit down and join the party, I was going to have a nice, long talk with my goddaughter.
Apollo apparently had the same idea. He also had the idea to teleport instead of pushing past a bunch of Muses; thus he got to the happy couple before I did. When I arrived, he was saying, “…and Orion. That was classic. He’s stuck in the sky, being chased by a giant scorpion for all eternity. Good times, good times.”
“I get it,” Hephaestus said with an impassive nod. “Bad things happen to beings who hurt, reject, harass, or otherwise threaten the women in your life.”
“So?” I amiably slipped my arm around Aglaea’s waist. “How long have you two been an item, and more importantly, why am I finding out about it here, now, like this?”
“Since I was staying with you guys, and because we didn’t want to tell anyone we were together until we were sure where it was going,” said Aglaea. “Also because theater gods are way too easy to distract.”
“Then you two are sure where this is going?” Apollo deduced. “I’d love to hear your conclusion.”
“We want to get married eventually,” said Hephaestus.
“We’ve already talked to Mom and Dad,” said Aglaea. “They weren’t crazy about the idea of me living on Olympus, but they like Hephaestus, and they think it’s great that I want to get married and start a family. As far as they’re concerned, we can become formally betrothed whenever we want.”
“Apparently your dad thought it was so great that he had to keep it from his own father,” Apollo murmured.
“We asked them to let us tell you ourselves when we were ready,” said Aglaea.
“Now, when you say ‘start a family’…” I glanced curiously at her midsection, wondering what else these cruel, cruel people had been keeping from me.
“I mean after we’re married,” she laughed, playfully slapping my face. “Come on, aren’t you guys just a little bit happy for us?”
“Just a little bit,” I conceded as I gave them each a rib-crushing hug.
Apollo clapped Hephaestus on the back. “You’re in one piece,” he smirked. “That should tell you something.”
“Coming from you, that’s the best congratulations I could hope for,” Hephaestus acknowledged.
“So,” said Apollo, “what’s holding up your betrothal?”
“The fact that it would involve talking to my parent,” Hephaestus sighed. “Believe me, I’ve tried, but since the divorce, she’s been acting like I don’t exist.”
“Hera and the Cold Shoulder of Death,” Apollo nodded. “I know it well.”
“She’s warming up a little. Yesterday I was trying to catch up with her in the hallway and she said, and I quote, ‘If I hear that goddessdamn cane clack one more time, I swear I’ll shove you off the mountain again.’ At least she spoke to me,” he said dryly.
“Can’t you go over her head?” I subtly nodded toward Zeus.
“Brilliant, Thalia,” said Apollo. “I suppose this could end up being the first time in history that Zeus giving Hera a direct order ended well for anyone involved.”
“What he said,” Hephaestus agreed.
“Does Aphrodite know about you guys?” I asked.
“If she’s observed us tonight, which is unlikely,” said Hephaestus.
Speak of the she-devil. “I never would have noticed you if it weren’t for this lovely creature who, beyond all reason, is apparently your date,” Aphrodite declared as she joined us. “Obviously one of mine. No, wait, I remember you from the Pythian Games!” she exclaimed in delight. “You’re that funny girl who sat next to me. We were never properly introduced. Are you one of mine? You could be.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought she meant it as a compliment.
“I’m Aglaea, daughter of Asclepius and Epione,” she confidently introduced herself. “And I’m not just his date, I’m his girlfriend. Practically his fiancée.”
Aphrodite giggled. “I hope you’re getting paid plenty to say that.” To Hephaestus, she added, “What is it with you and marriage, anyway? Even in your fantasies the girl is your future wife?”
“It’s my fantasy, too,” Aglaea persisted. “And my reality. I’m honestly planning to marry him.”
Aphrodite furrowed her brow. “Why?”
“Because I love him,” was Aglaea’s matter of fact answer.
“Huh,” Aphrodite pondered, her love goddess powers confirming the truth of Aglaea’s statement. “You really do. How odd. Do you not get out much or something? Never mind. Doesn’t matter. When you move to Olympus, look me up. I have plenty of open positions in my retinue. All those bitches quit when Hera started giving me the silent treatment. Stupid flaky nymphs.”
“Thanks, but I’m not sure I have the right resume for the job,” Aglaea smoothly apologized. “I’m a physician.”
“Perfect! Ares keeps breaking Hermes’ wings. I could use you on staff.”
“I’m not that kind of physician.”
“Whatever. Look me up anyway. You’re cute and funny and you’re going to be my best friend,” she declared. “Hey, I’m going to go mingle with those satyrs. You want to come?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“Suit yourself,” Aphrodite shrugged. She left as quickly as she’d come.
“I think that was the most bizarre conversation I’ve had in my life,” said Aglaea.
“Sure you don’t want to mingle with the satyrs?” Hephaestus laughed in his quiet way as he held her closer.
She kissed him. “I am exactly where I want to be.”
The next morning, I was awakened by a particularly urgent summons from Hera. I snapped myself into something presentable and rushed to answer her. Everyone had left the throne room except for Hera and Hephaestus. They were both sitting on their thrones, but Hera didn’t seem to be aware of her son’s presence. I couldn’t figure out why exactly my presence was needed.
“Thalia,” Hera said with a cloying menace in her tone, “my precious little clown. I seem to be immovably trapped in my throne. The funny thing is, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. The first was when I was at the Pythian Games and I sat in your throne. You wouldn’t know anything about this, would you, my pet?”
“I – I wouldn’t,” I blinked. “I truly would not. I can say with absolute honesty that I cannot think of a single reason why anyone in their right mind would do this to you deliberately,” I glared at Hephaestus.
“One possible reason,” said Hephaestus as he descended his throne and strode toward Hera’s, his cane deliberately and emphatically clacking against the marble floor all the way, “is that this is the only way one could think of to get her to sit down and listen.”
“I doubt you have anything to say that I would find worth listening to,” said Hera. “You’ve been nothing but a disgrace to me since the moment you were born.”
“I didn’t ask to be born,” he said. “That was entirely your choice. I didn’t ask to be a pawn in your ongoing conflict with your husband, either. In my entire life, have you ever once thought about what was good for me? What I wanted? What I needed? No, it’s always been about how I affected your status or how I made you look.”
“Oh, yes. When I gave you my consent to marry that harlot on a half shell, that was all about me.”
“Yeah, it was. You felt like you had to give me something to make up for the fact that you’d literally ignored my existence for the first years of my life. Once you’d done me that favor, as far as you were concerned, you never had to feel guilty again. Some favor. You and Zeus knew exactly what kind of marriage we’d have from the beginning. You knew I’d uphold your sacred institution, and you knew Aphrodite wouldn’t give a damn.”
“And you failed your role,” said Hera. “I believed you had the strength of character, the forbearance, the moral center, to keep that marriage together. I know better than anyone what an unenviable role that is, but you had what it took to fulfill it. I gave that to you. It was your choice to abandon it.”
“Yes, it was. And I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d never had to make it. It broke my heart to call the end of my marriage, because you did give me all of those things you just said. If you hadn’t, the divorce would have been as easy for me as it was for Aphrodite. Nothing changed for her, not really. Everything changed for me.
“And that, ultimately, is what I’ve been trying to talk to you about. I’ve fallen in love with an amazing goddess who, beyond all reason, as I’ve recently been reminded, is in love with me too. Not because of what I can do for her or how I can make her look, but because of the person I am. That’s what marriage is supposed to be like. And I want to marry her.”
Hera’s entire aura changed the moment she heard the magic word. “You want to get married?” she cried in rapture. “Why didn’t you just say so in the first place and skip all that pointless whining? Summon her at once, and let me out of this trap so I can embrace my daughter-in-law!”
“Sure, Mom; glad we had this talk. I feel like we understand each other so much better now,” he said as he tripped the release on the throne and deactivated the mechanism. Aglaea appeared before them.
“Oh, my darling!” Hera threw her arms around her and kissed her. “My blessings on you both. You and I must start planning the wedding immediately. We have to work quickly so that you can be married in my sacred month. You’ll make such a beautiful bride! What’s your name, my lovely?”
“Aglaea, daughter of Asclepius and Epione, granddaughter of Apollo, well, I guess you knew that part, you don’t need the whole genealogy, it’s – I – and that’s my godmother, but you didn’t really need to know that either, I suppose…”
“Everyone!” Hera summoned. As the Olympians appeared by their thrones one by one, I silently summoned my sisters, too, so they wouldn’t miss this. “Everyone, it is with great pride and greater pleasure that I announce the betrothal of Hephaestus, most beloved of my sons, to…”
“Aglaea,” the bewildered pair reminded her.
“Aglaea, daughter of – oh dear, you’re only a demigoddess. That won’t do at all. Allow me to grant you the first of my wedding gifts.” Hera took Aglaea’s hands and enveloped her in a blinding light, the same as she had done with Psyche. When the light had faded, she said, “You’re a full goddess now, immortal in every way. You can’t be killed, not even by one of us. The only thing that can stop you and my son from being together for eternity is yourselves.”
“I, too, would like to offer a gift,” Aphrodite proclaimed. We all held our breath as she approached Aglaea. I doubt anyone was worried that she’d be jealous of Hephaestus’ new bride, but it was entirely possible that she would feel some jealousy over Aglaea being Hera’s favorite for the moment. “There are six other goddesses of healing,” she said. “There’s only one goddess of beauty.” She kissed Aglaea on both cheeks. “Now there are two.”
“You don’t have t-”
“Oh, it’s alright,” Aphrodite assured her. She produced a full length mirror so Aglaea could behold herself in her new splendor. I wondered whether Aphrodite was aware that Aglaea looked exactly the same as before. “See? I didn’t make you as beautiful as me, just beautiful enough to be seen with me – which is going to be essential to our friendship. Now, I get final approval of your wedding dress. Can’t have my best friend looking shabby at her wedding. I’d make the gown myself, but, union rules and all that. I toil not, neither do I spin.”
“Quite right,” said Hera. “That task will go to my best seamstresses. You’ll be fitted later today. Oh, there’s so much I have to do. Demeter, Hestia come.” Hera and her girlfriends made a stately, dramatic exit.
“Better luck with this one,” Zeus granted, not bothering to descend his throne. He left, too. All the gods except Apollo and Hephaestus followed him.
“I’d better run; Ares and I were in the middle of something,” said Aphrodite. “You want to join us?” she offered Aglaea with generosity so pure and sweet as to bring a tear to one’s eye. “You can have him when I’m done.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
“Well, you and I can get together later, then. We can…actually, I don’t know what people do for fun when they’re not having sex with each other. But we’ll figure out something, alright?” And then she was gone, too.
“Do I have to be her best friend?” Aglaea inquired of no one in particular.
“I won’t stop you,” said Hephaestus.
“Can I stop me?” Aglaea clarified.
He laughed. “She’ll believe what she wants no matter what you do. But don’t worry, I imagine she’ll get bored with the idea soon enough.”
“This may be our fault,” Artemis apologized. She and Athena had been hanging back, waiting for Aphrodite and Hera to leave before they offered their congratulations.
“Yeah,” said Athena. “Recently Aphrodite directed one too many virgin jokes at us, so we pointed out that she and Ares are perfect for each other since neither one of them has any friends.”
“You pointed out,” said Artemis. “But it is true.”
“Although I’ll give her more credit than Ares. She actually felt the need to do something about it,” Athena added.
“Do you give anyone less credit than Ares?” asked Artemis.
“I think that’s mathematically impossible,” Athena considered. “By the way, I’m going to weave you guys a tapestry. It’ll be ready by the wedding.”
“And I’m going to plant a cypress tree for you,” said Artemis, the thought of a gift obviously not having occurred to her until Athena had spoken up.
“Is it just a tree?” Aglaea said suspiciously.
Artemis’ eyes shifted back and forth. “Yes.”
“Artemis,” said Apollo.
“Okay, I’ll give you each a moonstone. Happy?”
“Very,” Hephaestus accepted. He’d always wanted to work with moonstones, but Artemis almost never gives them away on account of the fact that if she chipped off too many, there would be no more moon.
Just after Artemis and Athena left and before the Parnassus crowd could say our goodbyes, a trumpet blast pierced the air. We all turned our attention to a gap in the pillars through which Eros and Psyche were flying. They landed in the center of the room, Eros as flamboyantly as ever, Psyche daintily and modestly and yet still commanding at least as much attention as her bridegroom.
“We’re back!” Eros announced the obvious. “Anything good happen while we were gone?”
“And you did all this without me?” Eros said at the end of his dad’s story.
“I wanted to tell you, of course, but I couldn’t summon you while you were on your honeymoon, and I had no idea when you’d be back,” Hephaestus apologized. “Even so, we were going to wait and announce our betrothal until I’d had a chance to talk to you, but my mother took over, and there was nothing we could do about it. You know how she is.”
“No, that stuff’s cool. I meant I can’t believe you got this far without my help!” he grinned. “And by the way, thanks a lot, this is just what I needed. Another woman in my life who’s way too hot to be my mom.” He kissed Aglaea on the cheek. “I hope you don’t mind if I call you Aglaea.”
“Of course,” she assured him. “You already have a mom.”
“You know,” Psyche presented with understated enthusiasm, “I’ve developed a theory that marriages would benefit from a series of joint soul-examination sessions during the betrothal period.”
“Sounds interesting,” said Aglaea. “We’re going to be pretty busy over the next couple months, but when we get back from our honeymoon, I’d love to hear more about your theories.”
“But you’ll already be married by then,” Psyche complained.
“It’s okay, sweetiekins,” Eros consoled her. “Now that I’m back on duty, it won’t be long before you’ll have more test subjects than you know what to do with.”
“You’re right,” she cheered up. “Eros has this incredible new invention. He developed it for us originally, but it was too good not to share.”
“It’s a torch that sets people’s hearts on fire!” he said. “Can I get a few Muses for a demonstration?”
“I think we’ll be heading back to the Museum now,” Apollo spoke accurately for all of us. “Good to have you back. We’ve just been beside ourselves with all the peace and quiet.”
Once again, Mount Olympus flew into a flurry of wedding preparations, and Mount Parnassus was flying right alongside it. Aglaea was staying with us, as was Epione. Aglaea, though the youngest of her parents’ children, was the first to be married, and Epione wanted to help with the wedding as much as she could. Her help mostly consisted in providing Aglaea and Hephaestus with another voice of reason and restraint throughout the wedding planning – not an easy task when you have a marriage goddess, two love gods, and nine muses involved.
Personally, I don’t quite see what weddings and restraint have to do with one another. What, you think I like weddings because they’re romantic? Please. A wedding, like any public ceremony, is a production, and that is irresistible to a theater goddess. However, neither Aglaea nor Hephaestus has ever been particularly theatrical. I’m sure if it were completely up to them, they would have just had a simple exchange of vows in front of the minimum number of witnesses needed to make it legal. Unfortunately, if you happen to be the son of Hera, it’s SO not completely up to you.
Clio’s wedding gift was to catalogue the wedding gifts. For starters, Artemis did indeed give a pair of marble-sized moonstones. Hephaestus used them to make the wedding rings. Artemis also promised to hunt the finest game in the forest for the wedding feast. Demeter, too, was contributing the best from her gardens and orchards; Dionysus, the best from his vineyards; and Hermes, the best from his herds. Hestia was helping Aglaea make over Hephaestus’ quarters, and unlike Hera, she was actually paying attention to what the recipients of her services wanted. Apollo, of course, was performing at the wedding along with us. Zeus told Clio to put down Hera’s gift of complete immortality as “from both of us.”
Athena fulfilled her promise and set to work on a tapestry immediately. We were all dying to see what she’d come up with. Sometimes she designs the tapestries herself, and sometimes she just puts herself in a trance and lets her fingers create what they will. As it turned out, I got the first and last look at the tapestry when I was summoned to her quarters one day.
“Look at this,” she directed, evidently most displeased with her final product.
“Aphrodite’s in it,” I said, commenting on the first thing I saw. Even in a tapestry, Aphrodite is the first thing anyone sees. “You can’t give them that.”
“So glad I summoned you. I might not have noticed. What else do you see?”
“Hey, that’s me! And those are – whoa.” Once I was able to take my eyes off Aphrodite, I could see the whole scene, which was set in the Fates’ Tower. In the center of the scene was a tapestry on a giant loom. Clotho sat at an angle with her spinning wheel. Atropos stood to the left of the tapestry, her shears poised in the air. Lachesis stood to the right, holding her measuring stick over the two figures kneeling before the tapestry: Aphrodite and me. Aphrodite was leaning on my shoulder with one arm, her chin resting on her hand. In one of my hands, I was holding a golden thread and a variegated thread. With the other hand, I was unraveling a brown thread and a seafoam green one that had been tightly woven together. Aphrodite held the loose end of the seafoam thread and was blissfully fraying it between her fingers. Clotho was taking the stray end of the brown thread and matching it against an emerald green thread, one that complemented it so much better than the seafoam.
“Aphrodite’s part is obvious,” said Athena. “She doesn’t let anyone forget that she has the power to influence the Fates, and we all remember her blessing on the Pythian Games. The gold and variegated threads are Eros and Psyche, and the brown and green threads are Hephaestus and Aglaea. But what I don’t understand is, what are you doing in this picture?”
Hephaestus and Aglaea. In the whirlwind of discovering their relationship, it had completely escaped my mind that they’d first met at the Pythian Games. It made so much sense. My blessing had worked after all, completely worked. Or had Aphrodite’s? Or had both of our blessings happened to coincide? Or was it more than a coincidence? Had both of our blessings worked because they had a similar purpose? Had Aphrodite and I actually had a successful collaboration?
“I think I’m making the Fates weave a happy ending.”
Athena agreed not to tell anyone what I’d shared with her. She knew as well as I did that the reason my sisters and I have always been relatively free from Zeus and Hera’s meddling is that we’ve never been considered all that powerful. We’re the Glee Club of the Gods, and that’s all we’ve ever aspired to be. Athena rolled up the tapestry and gave it to me to take home. I gave it to Apollo. He stowed it away along with Asclepius’ cure for death. My secret was safe. I went to bed that night feeling peaceful, content, and rather proud of myself.
I had it coming.
Once again, I found myself in the Fates’ Tower. “Perhaps this time you will remember the encounter beyond waking,” Clotho scowled from her spinning wheel.
“Don’t fault her; it was the drug,” Atropos ran the tip of her shears along my scalp.
“How am I doing, Lachesis?” I asked. “Grown any since my last birthday?”
“You have proven difficult to measure,” she replied, striking my heels with the tip of her rod. “As we have shown you in Athena’s tapestry, it could be argued that your blessing worked, but Aphrodite made her blessing first, and hers was likely the more powerful. It is possible that the outcome would have been the same whether you had made your blessing or not. If your blessing did add power to hers, it is still possible that yours did not have the power to succeed alone.”
Don’t say you want another test; don’t say you want another test, I chanted in my head.
“We will not,” said Atropos. Gulp.
“Not yet,” Clotho added. Double gulp. “Aphrodite revels in her newfound freedom. In her exhilaration, she bestows her blessings upon gods and mortals left and right, whether they seek these blessings or not. Eros returns from his honeymoon, eager to grant the joy he has found to all within his reach. It would be nearly impossible to target anyone without intersecting the will of either of the love gods.”
“But a happy ending doesn’t always have to mean finding true love, does it?” I argued. “Look at Aphrodite.”
“Aphrodite’s true love is herself,” said Lachesis. “That is what she now has, and as you have seen, she is happy with that.”
“But for want of a friend,” Clotho added. “And now she has claimed one.”
“Whether a happy ending requires true love is irrelevant,” Atropos ruled. “The fact is, the two are not mutually exclusive, and for our purposes, we cannot risk you accidentally working in tandem with the love gods again. But a time will come soon enough.”
“Yes,” said Lachesis. “The love gods are fickle creatures, both of them. Easily bored, quickly tiring of what they once embraced with utmost enthusiasm. Eros will, unlike his mother, be constant in his connubial love. That much he was given by Hephaestus. But when have you known him to be constant in anything else? Or Aphrodite to be constant in anything at all?”
“Annoyance? Oh, right, rhetorical question. Hey, are you saying Hephaestus really is Eros’ father?” I backtracked.
“Hephaestus is not his father in body,” said Clotho. “However, when he chose to raise the boy as his own, he became his father in soul.”
I couldn’t help asking. Who else could possibly give me an answer? “So, is it Ares or Hermes?”
“We fail to see why you need this knowledge,” said Lachesis.
“We have told you all that you need to know for what you call the present,” said Atropos. “When we have more to tell you, we know where to find you.”
Athena made a new tapestry overnight, this time while she was conscious. The new tapestry was an unbelievable rendition of the wedding rings. I think she’d seen them a total of one time. Who but Athena could get the threads in the moonstones to shine with real moonlight? I noticed that the border was laurel branches rather than roses, the more traditional flora for a wedding tapestry, but entirely inappropriate for this wedding since roses are sacred to Aphrodite. Same with doves. And swans. And pearls. Did I mention that the decor for this wedding was posing a bit of a challenge?
Anyway, Athena’s gift left Ares as the only Olympian who hadn’t offered a gift of any kind. When Hera broached the subject, it turned out that he wasn’t deliberately snubbing Hephaestus. The thought of giving a wedding gift just hadn’t crossed his mind, that’s all. Ares asked Hera if promising never to make a pass at the bride could count. She informed him that it could not, and also that she’d like very much to forget he was her son. Ares gave up on the whole gift thing.
Aphrodite was so outraged by this slight to her most bestest friend that she broke up with him, leaving Hermes to succeed him as her primary lover. I figured this arrangement would last a week tops, so I had to move quickly to implement a plan that had formed in my mind the instant I’d heard the news. As a refreshing deviation, this plan had nothing whatsoever to do with weddings, gifts, or Fates.
“Why did you summon me here?” Apollo asked in confusion.
“What do you see?” I asked from atop Pegasus, quite pleased with myself for having come up with this plan and eager to get on with it.
“What do you see in it?” I persisted.
“Hermes’ cattle,” he said, still not getting it.
“You’d think a sun god would be a lot brighter. What do you not see in it?”
“A reason for being here, ever?”
“Or…drumroll…Hermes, who is with Aphrodite, who will be keeping him occupied for a long, long time.” I stuck my crook at him like a royal scepter. A light went on over his head.
“Tell me, O Great Thalia,” he mock bowed as he took the shepherd’s crook from me, “would it be good comedy for Hermes to return to this pasture and find every one of his cows missing?”
“It would indeed.”