(Ancient Greece; Roughly 2100 years ago)
Long before the world thought they were no more than myths and legends, there was a pantheon of gods and goddess that watched over the events within the land of Greece. There was Zeus, the Thunder Bearer and the king of the gods. His wife and sister was Hera, she who watched over women and marriage. Many of Zeus' brothers and sisters were in the pantheon as well, and so were many of his children. Each had a duty and role to fulfill. Most spent their days tormenting or pursuing mortals.
A part of the pantheon but not technically related to anyone within it was Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. She was married to Hephaestus, Hera's son, but fidelity was not precisely common among the gods. She had had many dalliances over her years, and her favored partner was Ares, the God of War. Such an unlikely union, Love and War, but it had produced a god who was arguably the busiest, most desired, and most mischievous: Eros, the God of Love and Desire.
Almost from the moment Eros was born, he used his gifts to make men and women, both mortal and god, fall in love. He would inflame their hearts with passion and he would take away desire where it was abused or not needed. Perhaps a bit ironically, the God of Desire was the only one who practiced monogamy. His mother represented polyamorous love, and he monogamous. They would inflame both equally as needed in the populous, but for their personal love lives, they had a distinct difference in preference. So, while Eros' consorts knew they may not keep him forever, but they did know that he was theirs for as long as he wanted them.
Even his fellow gods watched him with a bit of longing. He stood at a normal enough five-ten height for a god, and he truly epitomized perfect beauty. His golden hair curled around his sultry features, and his sky blue eyes would light with wonderful sparks whenever he felt the effects of his power. He wore a quiver of arrows on his trim hips, and a bow hooked over his shoulder where the string would cross his sculpted chest.
He was invariably putting out fires behind the other gods. Most had no concept of decorum or consent. If a mortal was assaulted by a god, he went out of his way to ensure that a future of happiness would follow. It just vexed him that he got the blame for the events happening in the first place. He didn't shoot arrows where they were unneeded; the pantheon was lusty enough without his help!
His chosen domain was hidden among the invisible clouds that supported the palace of the gods. Only his mother, father, and a few select other gods or goddesses knew how to find him. Everyone else had to call for him properly.
The enraged shriek echoed through his halls as he lay perched on a cloud and watched the planet far below. He dropped his head into his hands on a groan. "By Zeus." He rolled over and sat up cross-legged to watch as his mother stormed into the area with suitable drama and flare that made her bright golden hair swirl around her shoulders and her skimpy peplos play peek-a-boo with her lush body. He merely propped his chin on his fist. "Now what has you in such a mood?"
Aphrodite scowled as she stopped in front him. She planted her hands on her hips. "My temples are being abandoned!"
He stared at her for a moment. "That is impossible. Why would they be abandoned?"
"The mortals are worshipping one of their own!" Her voice climbed on every word, and she stamped a bare foot on the ground in punctuation. "They dare compare her to me! They dare say she is more beautiful than I!" She swung away on a frustrated growl. "Go take care of her for me! Avenge your mother's pride!"
He stifled a sigh. His mother's pride demanded that he find any female who might be her rival and make sure the mortal fell in love with someone ugly. He always did as she asked—it was best to keep her happy if only for his sanity—but he always made sure the lack of appeal was only on the outside. The maidens who had dared incur Aphrodite's wrath had ended up in happy relationships anyway.
Still, this was a bit new. It was usually just people comparing a woman to Aphrodite. That this mortal was being worshipped put it into a new field. She must have been truly spectacular. Curiosity filled him and he got to his feet. "I will see to her," he offered only. A few centuries of knowing his mother told him how to divert her, and he looked at her face intently for a moment. "You may wish to stop worrying over this issue so terribly. I think I see a wrinkle."
She yelped and rushed out quickly. He grinned a bit and picked up his bow and arrows in order to descend. It would not be hard to find his target. It was obvious everyone knew who she was and where she lived. At the least, he hoped she was enjoying the worship. It could be vexing sometimes.
Down on the land, among the mortals, the young woman named Psyche was indeed being worshipped though she tried her best to protest against it. She was not a goddess, after all, and she knew the whispered tales of what Aphrodite did to rivals. Her case was not aided by the jealousy of her sisters. Though lovely, they simply did not compare.
Some sort of strange perfection imbued her features in a way that meant any man or woman who looked upon her would find her beautiful. She was a fairly normal height of five-two, but she was deceptively delicate in her frame. She had a lovely figure only just settling into its true shape, and at eighteen, it was likely she might even become more beautiful later. Rich black eyes were framed by naturally dark lashes, and her smile could light a room.
What truly elevated her though, what truly made her stand out, was her hair. The thick mane tumbled down past her shoulders in a rich red hue. No one knew where it had come from. All of her family had brown hair. Some had initially accused her mother of dallying with a god, but Psyche had the little birthmark on her foot that came down through her father's family. She was not even a half-god, though many thought she ought to be.
Of course, her adoration wouldn't have been so prominent if she had not been as beautiful inside as she was outside. She was infallibly kind and gentle, could laugh at her own mistakes, and she was the first to offer a hand if you were in trouble. Her father had been trying to keep her from breaking her heart since she was a child.
Suitors had been knocking on the door for four years. Some had offered a great deal of money and goods for her hand, but her father had refused. He would prefer to keep her unwed and at home, where she could tend to things now that her mother had passed. She didn't mind that very much; she had no desire to marry for anything less than the love her parents had shared.
She did not realize that the rejected suitors might try to force their hand until one day while she was picking grapes off the vines. She heard a footstep and turned to see one of her neighbors approaching. She liked him well enough, but her shoulders tensed a bit. Her father had warned her to not be alone with any man. "What brings you here?" she asked. She tried to subtly put the basket in front of her body.
"I have come to ask for your hand." He took off his hat earnestly. "I will treat you well, Psyche. You can sit at home all day and never work again."
Where she could be put on display like a hunting trophy. Really, how foolish did he think she was? "I am flattered, but no. My father has already declined your offer, and I am doing the same."
Something cold and ugly filled his eyes. "You will change your mind when I am done with you." He grabbed her shoulders and jerked her closer until the basket crunched between them. He tried to kiss her, but she kept jerking her head out of the way. He released her shoulder to grab her chin, and her hand suddenly shot up.
Grapes smashed into his face and briefly blinded him. She tore free of his grip and went running away into the trees as fast as she could. She felt sick and humiliated. Her panting breaths were as much from tears as they were exertion. Her day was not set to improve, however. She forgot about the dip in the landscape and went tumbling down the side of the hill. She rapped her head hard enough on the ground along the way that she was unconscious before she skidded to a stop at the bottom.
Eros knelt in the nearby trees and notched an arrow in preparation. He started to pull back the string and then lowered it again as she still did not move. Something about her seemed to powerfully draw him. He put the arrow away and hooked his bow over his shoulder as he walked forward to kneel by her side.
His breath hitched in his chest as he truly saw her for the first time. Rival his mother? Somehow she had done the impossible by being more beautiful. The familiar claws of desire began to rake through his body though with a potency he had never felt before. He ached to claim those soft lips and taste that fragrant skin. He gently reached out with his power to see her heart, and his longing only grew more powerful. She was as beautiful inside as out.
He tenderly checked her for injury and found nothing severe. He eased the bump on the back of her head and wistfully looked again at her lips. She was too good, too beautiful, even for a god. Then again, if the other gods noticed her, they might not see her as anything except a new pursuit. It made a blend of jealousy and fury churn inside his heart.
Sensing himself getting in trouble, he tried to put her down in order to walk away. He jostled his quiver in the process and jabbed his arm with the point of an arrow. A violent surge of lust ripped past his self-control, carried on a nearly cataclysmic rush of emotion. He looked down sharply, expecting to see that he had accidentally induced himself to love, but the only arrow pointed upward was an instigator. All it did was remove inhibitions on existing emotion.
It was daunting to see and feel the sheer depth of his existing emotion for this creature he held. It seemed to have been there inside him all along. Was she the one that had been foretold to walk by his side? Her breath sighed out with the scent of strawberries, and he found he did not care. He had to know her taste. He covered her eyes with his free hand so she could not see who held her, and he bent his head to claim her lips with his.
A shudder moved through his body at the perfection of her. She stirred in his grip and sighed softly into his kiss. He took it for the invitation it was and deepened the embrace with a hungry thrust of his tongue. Her hand lifted blindly and found his shoulder. It slid up to get into his hair and she held him closer as she opened her mouth and let him teach her how to kiss him in return.
He savored the feel of the desire that throbbed through her body and tingled against his nerves deliciously. It was just another reason why he ensured his consorts enjoyed their dalliances; his power would not replenish without it. Somehow this one kiss with this one woman had managed to entirely refill him. What would making love to her be like?
Realizing he was rather dangerously close to finding out right then and there, he reluctantly released her and eased back. "I suppose I ought to apologize," he murmured thickly. "Do not make me apologize. I would not mean it."
"No need, I assure you. I am fairly sure that I was a willing participant." She would have lifted her other hand but her muscles felt a bit as if they had melted. So that was what kissing was like. It was incredible. "Why do you cover my eyes? I do not know your voice so you must be a stranger." A hint of laughter filled her voice. "Do you think you are ugly? I think that would not matter at this point. I was happy to be kissed by you, no matter how you look."
"I do not wish you to see me." He could not resist taking another kiss from her swollen lips though he kept it light. "Count to twenty. You may open your eyes then. Your word, my lovely."
She sighed. "Very well." To prove she would keep her word, she lifted her hand to her eyes and covered his hand. It slipped away and she covered her own eyes as he tenderly placed her on the ground. She felt surprisingly cold without him holding her, and an equally strange sense of loneliness filled her. How could she miss him when she did not know him? She counted to twenty and removed her hand as she sat up and opened her eyes. There was no one around.
Heart pounding from a potent blend of love and desire and joy, Eros watched her get to her feet. Her eyes. Those beautiful eyes. Centuries before, the oracle of Delphi had found him lamenting being alone for once and not enjoying it. She had briefly entered a trace, and upon returning, told him that he would one day find his other half. His other half would be the source of his power and be the one who completed him. She would possess a power of her own that even the pantheon would have to bow down to. Most importantly, she would possess 'eyes as black as the velvet night that embraces lovers.'
He had not sensed active power inside Psyche, but perhaps she had not yet come into it. She was but a mortal age of eighteen. She had many years to mature. He would not wait for them. He would not wait to claim her as was his right. The problem of his mother remained, though; she would never approve of him having a dalliance with Psyche let alone wish to claim her as his mate.
He would have to possess Psyche in secrecy until he could convince his mother to let him keep her. He would need to keep his identity hidden even from her for fear that she might rightfully wish to brag. It would be quite a claim to say you had enraptured the God of Love himself. She deserved that right, but not yet. Somehow he would have to make her fall in love with him though she could not know his face. He could have used an inducer on her, but he loathed the idea of it.
She was his other half. The only creature that completed him. She was already in love with him as he had already loved her. He would simply do whatever it took to ensure she gave him her heart as willingly as he would give her his.
His eyes narrowed slightly. As soon as he punished that foul beast that had tried to assault an unwilling woman, he would put his plans into motion. Psyche would be his wife before another week passed.
©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.