“I want to tell you the story of how I made my vow,” said Artemis.
“I’ve always thought there was more to it than the story everyone tells,” said Athena. “Since it happened over a year before I was created, all I’ve had to go on are a few eyewitness accounts and a lot of gossip. I’ve always wanted to hear your perspective, but I figured if you wanted me to, you’d volunteer it.”
“Yeah,” said Artemis. She looked lost, unsure where or how to start. I knew storytelling wasn’t exactly in her skill set, so I decided to stick around and lend her a little Muse power. I focused my will on her. You can do this, I thought toward her, knowing she couldn’t hear my blessing but hoping she could feel it. Once upon a time…
“Okay, um, you know all the basic timeline stuff,” Artemis began. “Apollo and I were a year old when we were taken to Zeus’ court, but we were still children. Preadolescents. About eight or nine for mortals.” Athena silently nodded. “By the next year we’d grown some, but still abnormally slow. We were barely entering adolescence. Like twelve or thirteen, I guess? Both of us were tall and lanky and not all that developed or filled out. Apollo liked growing his hair out just past his shoulders, and I liked cropping mine to the same length. I would’ve gone shorter and he would’ve gone longer if we thought we could get away with it. But we got picked on enough as it was, especially with me preferring men’s chitons and Apollo discovering eyeliner. Anyway, my point is, we looked pretty much identical.”
“You were hunting already, weren’t you?” Athena recalled.
“Yes, and I loved it. I’d made my first bow when we were on the run with Mom. Apollo had made one too. He was as deadly as I was, and he’d hunt for our food and he’d fight off monsters, but it was the protecting and providing that he cared about. The thrill of the hunt was lost on him. So he didn’t hunt much after we were taken to Olympus. He started getting into science and musical theater. In retrospect, we should’ve saved ourselves some effort and just painted targets between our eyes.”
“I wish I’d been around then,” said Athena.
“I wish you had, too,” said Artemis. “It would’ve been nice to grow up with someone who didn’t care that I wore boys’ clothes all the time and was constantly covered in dirt and bracken. Or that my brother was a pedantic know-it-all who was always stealing the makeup and hair crap that Persephone kept pawning off on me.”
“The more I think about it, Apollo becoming an expert boxer makes so much sense,” Athena commented.
Artemis sighed with a sad smile. “He didn’t wear the glam rock look out of our quarters that often. Definitely not when he knew Ares was home. But that didn’t stop people from constantly harassing both of us, and everyone’s favorite taunt was asking either of us which twin we were. Half the time they were just being jerks. Half the time they really didn’t know.
“So I didn’t think much of it when Zeus asked me that day. By then I’d learn to block it out whenever he made one of his stupid little digs at us. I’d been out hunting all that afternoon. Apollo was locked up in our quarters working on some new experiment. I would’ve teleported straight there, but I didn’t have that much power yet. I couldn’t teleport to different places on Olympus, and if I wanted to leave, I had to go from one of the palace exits to one of the temples or sacred places. That day I’d used the back way as usual, right off the housing rings.
“So, yeah, I’d just come back from hunting, and I was climbing the stairs to our ring. Zeus caught me alone in one of the corridors. He greeted me. I acknowledged him and hoped that would be the end of it. Apollo and I tried to avoid being alone with either of Their Majesties if at all possible. We knew Hera would hurt us if she could, and Zeus would…being alone with him was just so creepy. I tried to hurry across the corridor to the next flight of stairs.
“But no such luck,” Artemis continued, her eyes beginning to glaze and her voice adopting a strange, detached monotone. “Zeus asked me which twin I was. I said, ‘Artemis, my lord,’ and tried to get back on my way.”
In a barely audible voice, Artemis went on, “Then he said, ‘Prove it.'”
“Oh, Fates! Artemis,” Athena floundered, not sure whether to reach for Artemis or her sword.
“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘I don’t believe you. Take off your chiton and prove it.’ His eyes – you know that sickening look he gets when he thinks he’s being so charming and clever and funny? I panicked. I tried to run. He yelled ‘Don’t you run from your father,’ and before I’d taken two steps, I was on the ground, paralyzed.”
“He used a lightning bolt on a child?” Athena was outraged. I suspected that, as the Goddess of Battle Strategy, she knew exactly how such an attack would affect its victim.
“That he did,” said Artemis. “Then he suspended me, telekinetically, and my chiton came off. All I was wearing was my bow and quiver. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t blink. And he was just looking. And, I don’t know, circling. And getting closer. And closer.
“I have never been able to decide whether I’m grateful Hera showed up.
“She came behind him, picked up his lightning bolt, and bashed him in the head with it. He lost his hold on me. I crashed to the ground. I was still paralyzed. They got into a long shouting match that ended with Hera ordering Zeus out of her sight and Zeus, for whatever reason, complying. He’d probably gotten bored already.
“Hera threw my chiton on top of me. I don’t know why I dared to hope that was the end of it. She ripped my quiver off my back and hurled it down the corridor. The arrows scattered everywhere. Then she ripped off my bow. She raised her arms over her head and held the pose for a second. In case you haven’t noticed, Hera’s kind of a drama queen.
“I don’t even remember what it felt like when she broke my bow on my back. I just remember the fear and the helplessness.
“And I remember her screaming that I was a whore like my mother, and stuff about animal sex, stuff I’d never heard of, and how she – Hera, not my mother – must be some kind of freak for just wanting to do it in her own body. And a bunch of stuff about what I probably would’ve done for her husband if she hadn’t interrupted me. And how if it weren’t for perverted whores like me and my mother, Zeus would be content with her. This went on for a very long time. At least, I think it was a long time. I don’t know. It felt like it.
“Finally, I got some movement back. I grabbed my chiton, wrenched my broken bow out of Hera’s hands, and sprinted away, putting my chiton back on while I ran. I knew there was no place I could go where Hera wouldn’t find me, so I headed for a place where an audience might keep her in check: the throne room.
“That was smart,” said Athena. I could tell there was a lot more she wanted to say, and that most of it wouldn’t be particularly gentle or non-terrifying.
“It was. I ran to the middle of the throne room. Hera was just a couple yards behind me. Crossing the threshold restored her decorum and stateliness like a mind control spell.
“For some reason, Zeus had retreated to the throne room, too. He was seated on his throne. He looked at me like he was so shocked to see me like this. He was all like, ‘Artemis! What happened, Princess?’ I just stared at him like, what in Tartarus? Then he asked, ‘Who did this to you?’
“I wanted more than anything to say, ‘Both of you, you psychos.’ But I was so scared. And he had a whole stash of lightning bolts next to his throne. And I still had to live with Hera. So I said, ‘Your wife Hera, the lady of the white arms.'”
Athena looked puzzled for a few seconds. Then she solved the puzzle. I didn’t. “So when she-”
“I haven’t told you a thing about it,” said Artemis. “Let’s be very clear on that. But, yeah, Hera got it right away, too. She didn’t say anything. She just stood there, glaring, and adjusted her robe.
“Zeus said, ‘Come here, princess, come sit on Daddy’s lap.’ Now Hebe and Ilithyia were glaring at me, too. They’d never accepted me as a sister. I’d never asked them to. I would’ve been happy to let either one of them go in my place, but I didn’t feel like I had any choice. So I went and sat on Zeus’ lap. I was tensed, ready to leap off the mountain if I had to.
“Zeus asked me if there was anything he could do to make it better. I asked for the Cyclops to make me a new bow, an unbreakable one made of gold. He said it was done, and asked if there was anything else. I said ‘Swear I can wear men’s clothes whenever I want.’ He said, ‘You’d look so much prettier in a dress, but if you say so. I swear. Is there anything else I can do? You know I just want you to be happy.’ I got a little bolder. I said, ‘Make me the Goddess of Archery and the Hunt. Swear that my arrows will always hit their mark.’ He granted it. The courtiers all thought we had such a sweet little father-daughter scene going on. Zeus was soaking it up. He was like, ‘Anything else?’ I told him I wanted to lead a band of hunters, all female, all virgins. He granted that, and, once again, asked me if there was anything else he could give me. It was all a stupid game to him.
“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Just one more thing.’ He said, ‘Name it, and it’s yours.’ The court was dying to see what I would ask for. I think they were expecting me to say a chariot full of candy or some stupid childish thing like that.
“I said, ‘Swear to me that I can stay a virgin forever, that no man will ever have me.’
“He was quiet. Hera said, ‘You told her she could have whatever she wanted.’ Zeus said, ‘So I did. I swear it.’ I told him to say the whole thing. He did. He swore a divine oath that I could remain a virgin forever, and that no man would ever have me. I knew – in my mind, anyway – that even if he wanted to, no matter how hard he tried, the Fates would never allow him to break that oath.
“Then he hugged me, which was as horribly creepy as it sounds, and said, ‘Who needs Hera when other goddesses give me daughters like this?’ It was the best thing he could’ve done to make every woman in his family hate me, which I’m sure was the point. That and reminding me that swearing to a technicality didn’t stop him from being the person he is.
“As soon as he let me go, I ran away like a bat out of Tartarus. I reported to the Cyclops for my new bow and quiver. They were ready. I ran to the edge of the castle plateau and leaped off the mountain. I was strong and athletic even then, and I nailed my landing, so I wasn’t hurt. I landed near a river. I followed it until I came to a forest teeming with wild game. I claimed the river bank for my camp and the forest for my hunting ground. I spent the next week running around the forest shooting as many arrows into as many oak trees as I possibly could.” Zeus’ sacred tree. Yeah, Artemis has no aptitude for the theatrical.
“What was Apollo doing while all of this was going on?” asked Athena.
“The first day, he got his own magic bow and asked Zeus to make him God of Archery,” she laughed. “He wanted to join me on my shooting spree. I wanted to be alone. I tried to hide my bruises and scars, but Apollo saw them anyway. Then we both discovered our healing powers and were named God and Goddess of Healing. Apollo was distracted again by inventing healing potions. I had a different idea. I figured if I had the power to heal, I must also have the power to destroy.
“So I went on a killing spree. I went to every city where Zeus had a temple. Anyone who beat a child, any man who looked at a girl the wrong way, dead. I got some with my arrows, some with instant plague, but they all died pretty quickly. I named myself the Protector of Maidens. I expected Apollo to try to stop me, but he ended up joining me. He said boys needed a divine protector, too.”
“You’ve never talked about that killing spree,” said Athena. “I’ve heard rumors, of course, but I never knew what triggered it, and I never did figure out what stopped it.”
“You promise not to tell a soul, living or dead?” said Artemis.
“Mom found us. She begged us to stop, and said that if things were that bad at Olympus, she’d either take us away or come live at the Court so she could protect us. We knew neither one of those options would keep her safe from Zeus or Hera, so we cooled off and convinced her that things were fine and we were just working off some adolescent rebellion. Mom went back into hiding, we were welcomed back to Olympus, and that was the last time we saw her.
“The next time I was mostly alone with Hera, she said, ‘People are asking why I beat you. I’ve told them it’s none of their business.’ I said, ‘I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.’ She agreed. Neither of us have broken that agreement.
“I’m sure it’s obvious to you that this incident wasn’t a striking departure of character for anyone involved. And, like I said, swearing to a technicality didn’t turn Zeus into a different person. Nothing about living with him really changed. But he did swear that oath, and, in spite of the fear I’ve lived with every day, every moment, since then, the Fates have never let him break it.
“And things did get a little better. Later that year, we met the Muses, so Apollo finally had some friends. I started my band of virgin huntresses. Persephone decided I wasn’t too lame to hang out with once I got closer to her age. Thalia introduced me and Apollo to her then-boyfriend Hephaestus, who hadn’t gotten around to telling her that he was the son of Hera yet, so we had a secret weapon supplier.
“And then I met you,” Artemis said. Those five words were so simple, but anyone could see that, to Artemis, they meant the lighthouse in a hurricane. The first cool wind at the end of a long, oppressive summer. The happily ever after. “And even though I was so messed up that it would take me hundreds of years too long to figure it out,” she went on, “I fell in love with you.
“One moment of epiphany can’t heal a lifetime of pain. I’ve committed to healing, but it’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s going to take a long time. Maybe a few more centuries. Maybe eternity. I don’t know how much of myself I’ll ever be able to give anyone. But whatever that is, I want to give it to you, Athena. Because I love you.” There was a moment of silence, with Artemis tensed in anxious uncertainty, and Athena maintaining the same restrained caution she had throughout most of Artemis’ story. “You can talk now,” Artemis coaxed. “Please say something.”
“I don’t know what to say,” said Athena, “except that I love you, too. Not like a sister, and not like a friend. Part of me wants to take you in my arms right now and not let go for a hundred years. The wiser part can see how much you’ve been hurt, and wants to give you the freedom to take things as slowly as you need to. For now it’s enough to hear you say you’re in love with me and to say it back to you. I love you. Artemis, I’ve loved you for so long.”
Artemis reached a timid, unsteady hand toward Athena’s face. Athena’s lips parted and she trembled with anticipation. With a shaky confidence, Artemis pulled Athena toward her, and the two virgin goddesses shared a slow, gentle, chaste, passionate, tearful, and overwhelmingly happy first kiss.
No way the Fates were telling me I didn’t do that.
“Athena?” Artemis said once she finally had her face back.
“The story I told you — you understand that it was in absolute confidence, right?”
“Of course!” Athena affirmed. “It must have taken so much courage for you to share it with me, and I’m so grateful you did. I’d never think of telling anyone else.”
“Thanks,” said Artemis, “especially Apollo. Please don’t tell him. I did everything I could to protect him from that part of growing up on Olympus. The fact that it happened to me, not him, is one of my few consolations about those years. Besides, if he knew, you know he’d do something stupid.”
“I understand,” said Athena, “completely. And, honey, you know I’m the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy, and I’m not going to do anything that’ll put us in danger.”
“Yes, and I love that about you.”
“But I’m going to be watching and planning for my moment,” said Athena. “I don’t care if it takes a hundred years or a thousand years, but when that moment comes, I swear by the Fates, I will make Zeus pay. For everything.”
Artemis kissed her again. When they parted, she said, “I know you will.”
Okay. I did not see that coming.
I went a little way into the forest, took off my helmet, and teleported to the Muse pavilion. There was no event going on just then so none of my sisters were there. Apollo was. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was happy to see him, or whether or not I was happy to see him alone.
“Hey,” he greeted me with a smile of equal uncertainty.
“Hey,” I half-waved back, sitting down in my customized chair. “Where’s Adonis?” I asked.
“He’s supposed to meet me here in a little while,” he said. “He wanted to spend some time alone with Persephone.”
“That’s nice,” I replied. Yeah. With Persephone. That’s where the little two-timer was.
Apollo broke the ensuing silence by laughing, “What’s that look?”
“What look?” I was completely unaware of any look.
“I don’t know. You’re looking at me funny, like you heard some bad news about me that I haven’t heard yet.”
I wanted to put off the inevitable as long as possible, so I quickly scanned my brain for something to say besides, Oh, nothing, your boyfriend never actually broke up with his girlfriend, that’s all. “I had a dream about you the other night,” was the first alternative that came to mind.
“Please tell me it wasn’t one of those kinds of dreams,” he teased.
“No! No, definitely not. Um, actually, it was about Marsyas.”
“Oh,” said Apollo, his levity gone.
“You know, back then I didn’t really understand why you did what you did, but now I think I do,” I said. “I didn’t see what he was threatening. You recognized it right away, though, didn’t you?”
Instantly, he went on the defensive. His transformed demeanor startled me. “That never happened to me, do you understand?” he said emphatically.
“Of course,” I nodded.
“No one ever touched me. Not even when I was growing up on Olympus. Sure, Ares made extremely graphic threats every time he saw me, and Zeus would look,” he said, unable to completely suppress a slight shudder, “but that was as far as it ever went. Do you understand that?”
“I understand,” I assured him.
“Just ogling and taunting. That was the worst that was ever done to me. And maybe some accidental groping here and there, but I was never…that never happened to me. I want to be very sure we’re clear on that.”
“Clear as crystal.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve probably said too much.”
“Maybe you said something you needed to say,” I tried to comfort him. “You know, if you ever need to talk about anything, I’m good at sitting quietly and pretending to listen while I’m plotting stuff.”
“No, I already said more than I needed to,” Apollo insisted. “And do me a favor, don’t repeat any of this conversation to anyone. Especially not Artemis. The stuff when we were growing up — she knew about Ares, but Zeus would only do it when she wasn’t around. I never told her because I was afraid she’d get hurt trying to punish him. At least he never did it to her. I always tried to draw his attention away from her whenever I could. Knowing it wasn’t happening to her was a small consolation. But, really, promise you won’t say anything. Forget we had this conversation. Please.”
I’d try, anyway. But I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Athena had the right idea.
Adonis did come. As soon as he did, I left. I’d have to see him the next night at the big Muse showdown, so I could certainly wait until then.
At the final Muse competition, we had a full crowd on the pavilion. Zeus and Hera were both in attendance. Their seating arrangements weren’t as extremely separated as they had been at the last Games. This year they consented to both being on the actual pavilion. Their thrones were, however, situated at opposite ends thereof.
Aphrodite was there with Ares as her escort. She didn’t acknowledge Adonis when they entered. She and Adonis were seated on opposite side of us, anyway. Seating arrangements are always tedious things among the Olympians. You have to give due honor to everyone’s rank, satisfy everyone’s ego, and make sure no one’s sitting next to whoever they’re not speaking to at the moment.
For this event, everyone was arranged around the nine front and center seats, each of which bore the name of a Muse. Calliope was our right bookend. To her right were Artemis, Athena, Eris, Ares, Aphrodite, Aglaea, Dionysus, Hermes, and Zeus. Urania, who sat next to me, was the left bookend. To her left were Apollo, Adonis, Demeter, Persephone, Hephaestus, and Hera.
Why, you may ask, were Aglaea and Hephaestus not sitting together? Aphrodite had pitched a fit about wanting to sit with her BFF, and Hera wanted her son on her side of the pavilion since Ares and Eris were on Zeus’ side. Hebe and Ilithyia were sitting out the Games as usual. Hephaestus and Aglaea, being the non-confrontational types that they are, decided it wasn’t worth the effort to challenge either Aphrodite or Hera. Eros and Psyche had the row behind us to themselves, so they had offered to take Euphrosyne during the competition.
It was almost curtain time. Eris was the only one who hadn’t shown up. I nearly dared to hope that she wouldn’t.
No such luck. Not only did Eris come, she was holding Apollo’s bow and arrow. “I found these, but I don’t know whose they are,” she declared. “First I thought they were yours,” she said to Eros, “but I stabbed someone with the arrow and he didn’t fall in love or anything, he just laid down and screamed. Then I thought they might be yours,” she said to Apollo, “but they couldn’t be, because you’re sitting with him,” she motioned to Adonis. “Then I thought they might be yours,” she said to Artemis, “but they couldn’t be, because you’re grounded. I guess they aren’t anybody’s, so I’ll keep them.”
“Sis was always the brains of the family,” Ares beamed.
“Hello,” said Hephaestus.
“‘Sup?” Ares waved back to him.
“Eris, I think those are mine,” said Apollo. “Can I see them?”
“I just told you, they can’t be yours,” said Eris. “My logic was excellent. Wasn’t it, Mom?”
“Just hand him his weapons, please,” Hera said with the resignation of a mother who’s given up on the possibility of a relaxing, enjoyable evening. “Carefully.”
“First I want to make sure they’re his,” Eris protested, clutching the bow and arrow to her chest. “Were you at Persephone’s Doom today?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean my bow wasn’t,” said Apollo, holding out his hand.
“I didn’t think you were,” said Eris. She turned to Artemis. “Were you at Persephone’s Doom today?”
“I was a lot of places in my hunting grounds today,” Artemis answered.
“Did you take this bow and arrow with you?” Eris persisted.
“I didn’t shoot anything,” said Artemis.
“But did you have this bow and arrow with you?”
“I didn’t shoot anything,” Artemis repeated.
“I know what happened,” Eris concluded, quite delighted with herself. “You,” she said to Apollo, “lent these to your boyfriend, and he forgot to bring them back.” She awarded the bow and arrow to Apollo.
“Yes,” said Apollo, once the bow was safely slung on his shoulder and the arrow was under his seat. He must have gathered from Artemis’ answers that she had taken the bow and arrow. I doubted he had any suspicion whatsoever as to the reason. He probably figured she was going stir-crazy and just wanted to hunt. “Next time you go hunting, please don’t leave my bow lying around,” Apollo gently admonished Adonis. “In fact, Hephaestus, can you make him his own bow and quiver? It’s on me.”
“Sure.” Hephaestus snapped up a slip of paper and a quill, made a note, stuck it in his pocket, and muttered something about how much he loved taking work orders on his own time.
“You don’t have to do that,” Femdonis played along. “I promise it won’t happen again. In the meantime, punish me however you see fit.” Apollo blushed at the implication. I gagged.
“Can we all sit down and watch the show now, please?” Calliope brought the crowd to order.
“Yes, let’s,” said Apollo.
“Eris, sit down,” Hera commanded, seeing her daughter had no intention of heeding Calliope’s direction.
“I don’t want to sit down yet,” said Eris.
“Zeus, make her sit down and be quiet,” Hera said, looking straight ahead at the stage rather than at Zeus.
“She’s not hurting anything, are you, Princess?” Zeus replied with indulgent laughter.
“She’s holding up the show. You make her sit down.”
“Eris,” said Zeus, “your mom wants you to sit down.”
“Oh, thank you; cast me as the villain!” Hera scowled.
“I don’t want to,” said Eris. “This is more fun than theater.”
“Of course it is, but you know how your mom gets when she’s mad,” Zeus chided.
“Fine,” Eris conceded. But as she was getting seated, she remarked to Aphrodite, “I didn’t know you liked hunting.”
“Me neither,” said Ares. “We should go sometime.”
“Who says I like hunting?” said Aphrodite.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Calliope announced to the crowd in her stadium voice. “We welcome you to the Muses’ Finale.”
The competition got underway. Calliope’s entry was first, then Clio’s. Then it was time for Erato’s contestant, the breakout lyric poetess. I glanced over at Artemis and Athena. Artemis smiled and discreetly took Athena’s hand. Athena was in Elysia.
The poetess strummed the opening measures of a pleasant song. But suddenly, the tune and the meter changed. Her eyes turned white. Her whole bearing transformed. I looked down the row to Erato, as did my sisters, but Erato was obviously as confused as I was. Then I looked to Apollo.
Apollo can have a vision without any noticeable giveaways. It’s just more sensory input to him, like hearing or smelling something in the distance. So it must have been the subject matter of this particular vision that had rendered him nearly catatonic. None of us dared disturb him. We turned our attention back to the possessed poetess, who appeared to be functioning as a singing oracle.
“What shall we do, Aphrodite?
Lovely Adonis is dying.
Ah, but we mourn him!
Will he return when the Autumn
Purples the earth, and the sunlight
Sleeps in the vineyard?
Will he return when the Winter
Huddles the sheep, and Orion
Goes to his hunting?
Ah, but thy beauty, Adonis,
With the soft spring and south wind,
Love and desire!”
 Sappho, tr. Bliss. Original reads, “What shall we do, Cytherea?”