"Times change, dear. You know these younger girls seek later marriage."
"Oh, but I find it foolish—less time to bear healthy children, you know."
Cassandra adjusted her tunic and wrapped her scarf around tightly to conceal her face, hurrying inside the temple with her offering. She knew the ladies at the fruit stand often talked about her through seemingly general conversation but refused to let them bother her. It wasn't entirely her fault that no man would marry the poor girl: Her elder brother had driven away the last four suitors with his reputation alone. To Alexis, no ordinary man was fit to marry a woman of such gentle manner and (in his eyes) unrivalled beauty.
The sound of her entrance echoed about the stone temple as she carried her incense to the altar. Cassandra planned to make an offering to the love god himself, in hopes that he might hear her prayers and grant her a suitable husband. Oddly enough, the temple was eerily desolate--not even a priest to be found. Still, she climbed the short flight of steps to where she would burn her offering and kneel in prayer.
"Mighty Eros, hear my prayer," she began and then looked up to see if anyone were coming. No one. "Receive my offering and aid me in my time of need. A man to--"
Suddenly, a loud splash interrupted her.
She received no answer.
"Is anyone here?"
Still, bitter silence.
The splash sounded like it had come from the cleansing fountain to the right of her, but Cassandra saw no one when she looked up. Was there a restless spirit running loose? The gods only knew. To satisfy her curiosity, she left her place in front the altar to get a better look. It could've been that something had simply fallen over.
"Ahhh… ungh… that smarts."
Cassandra stopped in mid-step. She had neither seen nor heard anyone else enter the temple but was certain that she had heard a man's voice. Cautiously, she tiptoed toward the fountain and peered into it to see if, by some odd chance, a bird or some other kind of animal had fallen in. Instead, she was met with the beaming face of a man.
"You prayed, young one?"
Screaming at the top of her lungs, the startled Greek maiden nearly tripped over herself stepping away from the fountain's edge. She hadn't actually expected anyone to be there, let alone a man more handsome than any she'd ever seen before. With eyes of ocean blue and flaxen, curly locks framing his soft, almost feminine features, the stranger gave her a perfect, pearly-white smile.
"W-who are you? H-how… how did you get in here?" she stammered.
Reaching a hand over the side of the fountain, the man asked, "Would you mind helping me out first? I fear I may have broken something."
"Oh… uh, sorry. I just wasn't expecting…" Cassandra felt a blush rise to cheeks. "Here, I'll just… grab your hand."
She reached out and offered her hand, which the man took graciously, and helped pull him up. Lifting his left foot over the side, he placed his other hand firmly on her shoulder for support. Once he was out, he tried walking a few paces—unsuccessfully. Cassandra gasped as he face-planted into the floor, letting out a sharp yelp and grasping the stone foundation in pain. Obviously, he couldn't walk on his own with a sprained ankle, and now he would have a large bruise on the side of his face to match the scrapes on his knees.
"Oh, for the love of Zeus!" he cried. "Hades, you asswipe!"
Cassandra knelt down to offer her hand again, but couldn't help wondering why he would use the gods' names in vain—and in a holy temple, no less. Little did she know they were snickering in their respective realms beyond.
"Sir, are you all right? Let me get the healer to take a look at that ankle."
Before she could leave, however, the man reached out and grabbed the hem of her robe.
"Wait! Don't get the healer, just…" He propped himself up on one elbow. "Take me to the front steps. Would you, please?" He looked up at her ever so earnestly.
With a face like that, how could she refuse? So, she helped him to his feet once more and served as a crutch to get him to the steps.
"You never answered my question, sir. Who are you?"
As he sat down beside her, asmile played on his rosy lips, a twinkle in his eyes, and he took her hand in a cheesy romantic gesture.
"My dear, sweet Cassandra—"
"—And how do you know my name?"
"I'm getting to that."
"Oh, sorry. Go on."
"As I was saying… Cassandra, my dear, I overheard your prayer. You burnt an offering to Eros, did you not?"
"What does that have to do with your name?"
The man's grin widened as he proclaimed bluntly, "Lady, I am Eros."
Cassandra was in utter disbelief. How could this seemingly random guy whom she'd rescued from the cleansing fountain be the God of Love? The very idea was preposterous!
"Blasphemer! You expect me to believe that?"
The self-proclaimed sex god planted a gentle kiss on the back of her hand.
"My dear, have you ever seen a man so handsome… so gentlemanly…"
"So stupid that he would fall into a fountain as high as my waist!"
Eros' calm demeanor quickly shifted to aggravation. "I'll have you know I was thrown into that fountain, and that's not the point! (Damn Hades and his little bets…)"
Cassandra recoiled and crossed her arms. "Prove to me, then, that you are who you claim to be."
For the God of Love, one would think that would pose no problem; however, because of a certain bet he had made with the Lord of the Underworld, he was rendered powerless until he begged Zeus to restore his immortal powers—which would be rather difficult considering that Hades had caught him flirting with Hera the week before and let it "slip" around Zeus. His only hope was that Zeus have mercy on his soul. Eros had no way to prove his authenticity, but could always result to a method commonly used by the "lowly mortals" (lying, of course). It just so happened that a fairly attractive man in a fine tunic passed by them as he entered the temple to see one of the priests. In all honesty, Eros had no idea who the man was but, nonetheless, intended to use him as a temporary diversion.
"See that rich guy going up to the altar to pray?" Eros whispered in Cassandra's ear. "Ask him who I am."
"How do I know this isn't a trick?"
"Do I look like someone who'd lie to you?"
Cassandra put on a thoughtful expression. "Actually…"
"Never mind. Look, do you want a fine husband or not?"
"Well, yes… and how did you…?"
He regarded her carefully. Oh, but Eros knew all—romantically speaking, that is.
"My dear, I've told you already. I'm the God of Love. Any match I make is a match made on Olympus."
"We shall see, then. If this man doesn't know you, I'm leaving you here for the healer to find."
As soon as Cassandra was out of earshot, Eros bowed his head in prayer. The pain in his ankle, the stinging in his face, the blood trickling from his raw kneecaps (and the fact that this particular woman was unbearably hard to woo) had already gotten to him.
"Alright, Hades, you win. Now can you please tell Zeus that bit about Hera was a lie?"
No sooner than he'd spoken words, a dark flame seen only by him erupted over the flagstones. Out of the flame rose a smoky figure that swept over Eros and landed on the steps beside him. As smoke began to clear, it unveiled a deathly pale, dark-haired god with eyes as black as night, a ghostly aura surrounding him.
Eros, so good to see you, he greeted with false sincerity.
"Cut the bullshit and gloat. You know you wanna."
Oh, now why would I want to do that? I think the cold, hard truth serves well enough. You can see now that it's not so easy to pick up any woman you want without divine powers.
Eros said nothing in response.
All right, fine. I told you so. Happy?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah… I get the picture. Can we hurry up this begging to Zeus thing?"
I'll keep to my word, but you still owe me. Otherwise, Hercules'll be hearing about your 'affair' with Hebe.
Eros shuddered at the thought. Though he'd only given her a peck on the cheek and offered a night to remember, having the mortal son of Zeus up his ass for the rest of eternity would be most unpleasant. Still, he wondered just how far he could trust a god who ruled over dead people. Nevertheless, he bestowed his trust upon the undead god; and, as quickly and ominously as he had arrived, Hades was gone, leaving but a mere burn mark where he had sat. Eros breathed a sigh of relief and smiled up at Apollo as he drove the mighty sun through a small gathering of clouds. His day looked as though it might end well after all. That is, until…
…a familiar voice hammered against his eardrums.
"You lied to me! That man doesn't know you!"
He had supposed it to be inevitable. Because of his not-so-clever lie, all Hades was about to break loose. Eros was unsure of what to say.
"Uh… Miss, let me explain, I—"
"Explain? What's there to explain? You're a liar, plain and simple! I can't believe I trusted you!"
"You, sir, are a blasphemer!" Cassandra yelled and spat in his face.
A few passers-by paused to observe the spectacle, and the old women by the fruit stand soon joined them. Such an outburst in public was considered to be quite unseemly, especially for a lady. Nonetheless, there she stood, ranting at top volume as the crowd began to thicken.
Eros wiped the glob of saliva from his eye.
"I told you the truth! Please, you have to—"
"How dare you lie to me!" Cassandra's face began to resemble a beet. "A god indeed… I wouldn't be surprised if the real Eros were to descend from Olympus right now and smite you!"
A few of the priests moved from their prayer positions to see what was going on; but the real show had yet to begin. Cassandra picked up a rock.
"Hey, now! No need to resort to violent measures," Eros tried reasoning with her.
Unfortunately, she was never one for reasoning, and he was unable to move out of the way quickly enough as a two-inch hunk of sandstone hurdled toward his head. Eros did not see anything for the next two hours. What happened during that time would forever remain a mystery to him, but the pounding headache he awakened to would be remembered for the rest of his eternal life.
He saw clear skies above him… a bird flying overhead… the slightly fuzzed-out vision of…
"Dear, sweet mother of Hercules!"
The uncomfortably close visage of a woman frowned and blurred away.
"He's awake now!"
Eros was quite thankful to have Cassandra's face removed from his immediate line of sight. He loved having a woman close by when he woke, but three inches from his eyes when he first opened them was just too damn close (and just plain creepy). He was, however, thankful that she'd gone to fetch help from someone; even more so that she'd moved him from the temple steps to somewhere safer and more comfortable.
Still, something puzzled him: Why had she later decided to help when she was the one who threw the rock at him in the first place? Had he missed something? Pondering it only worsened his headache, so he chose to remain as clear-minded as possible. Then, an unfamiliar voice spoke up.
"You know, Cassandra, you should really consider learning how to hold back your anger. What you did back there—what, with the angry mob throwing stones and all—was inexcusable."
'Angry mob? What angry mob?'
He couldn't see who the new speaker was but assumed it to be the healer. Confirming his suspicions, an older man with a hooked nose, eyes clouded and hair grayed both by age, stepped into view, laying a cool cloth on Eros' head.
"But you should've heard it!" Cassandra countered. "He was claiming to be one of the gods!"
The healer chuckled and asked casually, "Which one?"
"Eros. Admittedly, he looks, well… He certainly bears Aphrodite's blessing… quite possibly as handsome as Adonis, but…"
The god himself could only grin. He coughed and cut into the conversation, speaking softly so as not to cause further pain to his throbbing cranium.
"So… you really think that I'm… handsome?"
Cassandra was taken completely off-guard. "Well, you are the most… beautiful man I've ever laid eyes on—but you're still a blasphemer."
"You don't get it… do you?"
Eros tried again, taking her hand amorously and grazing it along his bruised cheek, hoping that human pity would take hold and give him an edge. She flinched, though, when he moved her hand closer to his lips. Mission failed. Again. Even though he knew the bet was over, he still felt the need to boost his beaten ego.
Speaking of, where in the heck was Hermes? Had Hades' apology reached Zeus yet? The mounting tension held him in suspense, and the swelling lump on his forehead wasn't helping the situation any.
"What am I not getting? I've no idea what you're talking about."
"I'm Eros… don't you see? If you'd just listen to me…"
Cassandra's compassionate gaze upon him shifted into a hardened glare. Feeling the urge to slap him rise again, she stepped away from the blanket on which Eros lay. She felt it best to avoid another violent confrontation and upsetting the healer.
'Well, this is just wonderful. She hates me now, and I'm still stuck here as a mortal. Ungrateful little wretch… and I was about to answer her prayer, too.'
--Are you deaf or something?
Eros perked up. "Who said that?"
Both the healer and Cassandra stared back at him confusedly. Neither of them had uttered a word.
"Is something the matter?" the healer asked him, fearing that his patient had lost a few marbles.
Eros replied deadpan, "All right, whichever one of you's the ventriloquist, that's not funny."
Not them, you idiot, me. Look above you!
Complying with the voice in his subconscious, Eros was met the most blindingly colorful sight he'd ever beheld. Iris glared down at him from a low-hanging, rainbow-encompassed cloud, bearing with her a golden scroll that irradiated the very essence of godliness.
Hermes took the day off to go smiting with Artemis, so Zeus sent me to give you this.
Both the healer and Cassandra were dumbfounded as to why Eros was staring into space talking to himself. As he yammered on, though, his two observers completely forgotten, Eros' one-sided conversation made him look even nuttier than Cassandra had originally thought him to be.
"What? Is the letter in response to…?"
Yes. He says you're forgiven, and he also sent you this. Iris pulled a small pouch from the tasseled belt of her tunic. Pray to Zeus, sprinkle a little of this golden dust on you, and everything'll be fine.
"But what about the woman?"
"You know, the one who prayed for a husband and threw the rock at me?"
What about her? She prayed to you, not me. I have my own worshipers to worry about and a dozen more messages to deliver.
Unaware that they were in the presence of Hera's personal messenger, Cassandra leaned over and whispered to the healer, "I didn't realize I threw the rock that hard. Looks like he's having hallucinations."
The healer pulled idly at the hairs on his chin, a habit he often displayed when in deep thought. "There's a reason men avoid you, Cassandra. That, my dear, just happens to be one of them. If you'd calm down and act a little more lady-like—"
She let out an exasperated sigh. "It doesn't make any difference… No matter who courts me, Alexis always manages to find some ridiculous reason to deem him unworthy. I give up."
"Don't give up hope yet, dear. The gods have destined someone special for you, I'm sure."
Cassandra looked up hopefully to the sky and smiled at the rainbow beaming down from the strange cloud that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere: it was as if it were a sign of something promising in her future.
Eros, you idiot.
"What? What'd I do?"
Instead of worrying about what to do with her, why don't you just answer her prayer? Even now, she speaks of her romantic woes.
"Well, I would, but I don't exactly have my immortal powers back. A little help here, if you don't mind?"
Right. I almost forgot.
Iris chunked the iridescent scroll at Eros… which flew directly in the unfortunate god's eye, earning a series of unintelligible curses from him.
Sorry! I'll try not to hit you with the bag, okay?
Shewetted her finger andheld it up to catch the direction of the wind. After a couple of test swings, she aimed the pouch of blessed dust for his hands, but wound up smacking him in the gut anyway.
Onesharp, staggering breath later, Eros shouted, "Ow, fuck!"
Iris crimsoned slightly and glanced around to see if anyone had been watching. I'm not the best at aiming! I really didn't mean to!
Holding his eye and trying not to scream aloud again, Eros gritted his teeth. "No shit. Ahh… Dear Zeus, what next? Being struck by lightning?"
A stray flash illuminated the southern sky, followed quickly by an ominous roll of thunder.
"Forget I asked…"
"Are you all right?" Cassandra queried after hearing his previous cries of pain, the healer behind her giving him a look of genuine concern.
Iris smiled down sheepishly from her brightly colored perch and waved goodbye to him. I'll see you later, Eros--have to let Hera know the news. Have fun wooing what's-her-face! With a multi-colored flash, she streaked across the sun on her way back to Olympus, her stride quicker than a hummingbird's wing. With a slight feeling of contempt, Eros raised a single finger to the sky. Luckily, she couldn't see the gesture from so great a distance.
Noticing that his patient had decided to randomly point his erect middle finger at no one in particular, the healer asked, "Sir, are you feeling well?"
Eros lowered his hand and frowned, avoiding eye contact with either him or Cassandra. If claiming to be a god got rocks thrown at him, what would they do to him if he'd told the truth again?
Cassandra placed a hand on the healer's shoulder and said, "Perhaps we ought to give him a few moments alone. Apparently, he's yet to regain his wits."
He nodded in agreement and led her back to the altar inside, where she could safely resume her prayer. Of course, the god to which she prayed lay on a blanket outside; so, getting a response from him would prove rather difficult. Still, she was convinced that she'd been deceived by a random gorgeous stranger.
My Dearest Eros,
Please accept my sincere apology for my hasty accusations against you. I know Hera bears strong feelings of jealousy, and I wouldn't doubt that she'd use another god's flirtatious nature against me to arouse suspicions of adultery. (Just between you and me, I think Persephone has been giving me the eye lately. Hades has been slightly… negligent as of late.) To show that I hold no grudges against you, I've sent a sack of golden dust to restore your powers. Just sprinkle a pinch over your head and utter my name. Expect to see you back on Olympus soon.
'Eros I may be, but I fear no ordinary woman should desire a pompous dickhead such as I. I hate to admit it, but Hades was right. I'm nothing without my arrows and dashing good looks.'
Oh, that's not true, a voice echoed from out of nowhere.
Eros stiffened. "Who is it this time?"
Aphrodite, at your service. I couldn't help overhearing, hon. A bright light flashed before him, and the beautiful image of his mother slowly faded into view. You sound so… downhearted. What's the God of Love doing having lady troubles?
"I can fix everyone else's, just not mine." Eros leaned back on his elbows and released a heavy sigh. "It's nothing you should have to worry about, anyway."
It's my job, dear—now, spill.
"All right, fine. Assuming you know about my little bet with Hades…"
"Well, the asshole decided it would be a fun idea to throw me into a fountain and expect me to catch a woman's fancy without being able to walk. Cheater. That wasn't part of the deal."
She put on a thoughtful expression. I should think you'd have enough charm to seduce any woman you desire, regardless of appearance. Looks aren't everything. I mean, look who I'm married to.
"Heh, that's a laugh. I'm not Zeus, y'know. Besides, isn't that why you had an affair with Ares?"
Aphrodite crimsoned. That's not the point.And... it brought forth such a beautiful child. She brushed a hand along Eros' cheek and planted a light kiss on the end of his nose. Such an opportunity… You know you could find a better woman than… her.
Eros frowned and pushed her hand away. "Why do we always have to have this conversation? I love Psyche, and nothing'll ever change that."
Why, then, would you want to woo another woman?
"It was joke, okay? All Hades' idea! I wasn't going to do anything beyond kissing her… Well, if I had, it would've meant nothing to me. Besides, it's not like you've stayed true to one lover."
Really… And if I were to tell Psyche about all this…? Aphrodite gave him a wily smirk. Beautiful and loving though she was, Psyche had found her to be a most unpleasant mother-in-law, which would often lead to the usual mother/son spats whenever marriage entered the conversation.
Cassandra kneeled in silence before the smoldering stick of incense, watching as the twisted stream of smoke rose and wafted through the air. Something just didn't feel right. Despite her numerous attempts to concentrate on praying, her mind always seemed to wander back to that foolish man outside. There she was, trying her damnedest to pray for a decent husband, and the only man she could think of was one that she loathed… and, at the same time, pitied.
She looked up at the life-size statue of Eros in front of her, his stone eyes staring down at her with such a coldness that seemed unbefitting for a love god. No compassion, no life at all. She couldn't imagine the real Eros bearing down so grimly upon her. Nonetheless, Cassandra bowed her head again.
"Mother, I'm tired… tired of having this same conversation day after day. You're not changing my mind. Psyche and I are bonded 'til the end of time whether you like it or not."
Aphrodite's pleasant smile turned into a vicious scowl. If that's how it's going to be…
With the snap of her fingers, a thick, hazy mist surrounded the love goddess, encompassing her form so that she became invisible to even the eyes of the godly. Eros strained his eyes in vain to find her; but, alas, Aphrodite had vanished, most likely back to her place on Olympus. After a moment or two, a light wind kicked up, blowing the mist away.
"Dammit." Eros reached for the golden bag at his side. "Mother… why do you have to be like this? I love you—but I love Psyche as well." He removed a small handful of the dust and held it above his head. "Isuppose I should just let it go and get this over with… By the will of Zeus!"
A blinding white light engulfed him as the spirit of Zeus descended upon him.
She paused and opened her eyes. Something felt very different, as though there were a holy presence in the temple. 'Could it be? Have I finally reached him?' The mere thought of having her prayer answered made her giddy.
Insane, am I?
Cassandra glanced around for the source of the voice, but none was to be found. As it had been earlier that morning, the temple was empty.
"Who said that? Is somebody here?"
Hello, young one. Still can't find a husband? You know, if you'd listened to me earlier, I could've fixed that by this afternoon—but no, you had to throw that damn rock at me, didn't you?
She felt her eyes widen. 'I must be hearing things!' To confirm that she wasn't insane, shebounded out of the templeto check on the wounded stranger… only to find him missing.
He's not there, Cassandra. Guess you're stuck with me.
"Who are you? Why are you talking to me?!"
Calm down, lady. Eros smiled softly. I've been right by you all day.
In a fit of confusion and panic (and to avoid hyperventilating), Cassandra laid down on the mat on which her "victim" had been recuperating. 'This isn't happening. I'm not hearing any strange voices in my head. I'm just… stressed, that's all. The healer probably took that guy to get cleaned up or treated or whatever.'
Such a shame that so devout a follower should not believe when she hears. Would seeing help?
Cassandra screamed at the top of her lungs for the second time that day as Eros' holy figure faded into view.
"You! You're that man from the temple! But you look so… different. What's going on here? What happened to your injuries?"
Being a god has its advantages. So, do you believe me now or not? Or do I have to shoot someone first?
"I can't believe this. You were telling the truth."
Eros smirked. I guess seeing really is believing. Still want a husband?
Blushing slightly, Cassandra answered, "Well, I suppose so, though I don't think I'm really at that deserving after… what I did."
Forget about it. I've got you all taken care of.
"What do you mean?"
Oh, you'll see… He gave her a playful wink and waved goodbye.
Later that afternoon, as Cassandra made her way home, she encountered a rather large group of men blocking the streets down which she normally traveled. Men of all ages, sizes, social status—even some men that appeared to be from different kingdoms and provinces—were all gathered into an unfathomably enormous human traffic jam that appeared to have extended for miles.
'Holy damn! I've never seen so many people in all my life! I wonder what's caused all this commotion.'
As she reached out to tap on one man's shoulder, he turned around and asked earnestly, "Do you perhaps know where I could find Cassandra, sister of Alexis?"
"Actually, that would be me. Why do you ask?"
Without answering her question, he yelled over his shoulder at all the guys behind him, "Men, I've found her! This is the woman the priests spoke of!"
A deafening murmur erupted over the crowd as they began to surround her.
"Hey! What's going on here?!"
Before she knew what was happening, she'd been carried by the masses to the front steps of her house, where Alexis awaited her arrival with a scowl. Not wanting to stir the crowd again, he pulled her through the door and shut it behind him.
"Cassandra, what did you do?"
"What do you mean, 'what'd you do'? Why are all these people here? I wasn't aware that you were planning any parties!"
He looked back at her, dumbfounded. "You mean to tell me you've no idea why they're all here?"
"Not a clue."
"All of these men—and I mean every last one of them—seek your hand in marriage!"
The very idea was preposterous. She'd seen how many there were: probably enough to fill an entire coliseum. Knowing that they all wanted her of all available maidens had her feeling rather overwhelmed.
"And some strange gentleman stopped by and left this for you."
Alexis handed her a rolled-up piece of parchment, bound by a brilliant gold ring. She carefully removed the seal and unfurled the note.
I want to thank you for enlightening me to something I might not have otherwise seen. Even thought I lost the bet, I still feel as thought I've gained some form of wisdom that Hades has not.
The ring you hold in your hand is to be given the man of your choosing, as I have charmed it to bind him to you as your sole consort for the rest your days. I hope you find one of the suitors to your liking.
--Your one and only God of Love