After everyone had brought me to the hill, my father kissed my head. There were tears in his eyes. He looked so old. Acantha and her husband stepped forward and said goodbye. Even then I could feel the eyes of Acantha's husband studying me.
I felt so alone.
After Acantha came my sister Medea and her husband. Medea kissed my head as Father had done, but there were no tears in her eyes. Nor were their tears in Acantha's eyes. But there had to be. My sisters loved me, and I loved them. I could, though, understand why they were jealous of me. I could hear them whispering about it sometimes when I saw them during festivals. But they both never realized how jealous I was of them.
The greatest shame a Greek girl can bring her family is to remain unwed. Well, even at seventeen I remained unwed. My father had increased my dowry, but there were no offers. Acantha had wed her husband Pleuron, the son of the richest of our nobles, when she was fifteen. Medea had wed the son of my father's dearest friend, Adonis, when she had turned fifteen two years after Acantha.
One may also think badly of me for saying so, but it is, regrettably, true. Neither is Acantha nor Medea beautiful. I am the only of Father's daughters to resemble our beautiful late mother. So I have been told. Hearing Acantha and Medea whispering about me hurt me. They did not know the troubles that my wretched beauty had brought me. Every time I would see Acantha and Medea, I could feel their husband's eyes studying me.
Pleuron, at least, behaved with restraint at family gatherings. Adonis would always try to catch me alone. When I was twelve, he found me with only my slave Ctimene. "Our lovely Psyche is becoming a beauty…" He had whispered. He had grabbed my arm and tried to kiss me, but then Ctimene bit his hand. I was very grateful to her.
My beauty also caused the people of our kingdom to worship me as the reincarnated Aphrodite. This pleased Father; he took delight in being a father to a new goddess. But I did not like it. Aphrodite is protective of her beauty, and she is a very vengeful creature. I was terrified as to how Aphrodite was to react to this worship. I begged the people to stop worshipping me and instead to go to the temples of Aphrodite, which were crumbling. Would Aphrodite turn me into a frog? Or worse, my father or sisters? To appease Aphrodite, I offered daily sacrifices and decorated her altars with garlands of the flowers from my gardens.
On my seventeenth birthday, and still without even one suitor, Father was forced to ask the oracle at Delphi. When he and my sisters came back, they had been white from fear. "Psyche will never marry a mortal. She shall be given to one who waits for her on the mountain. He who flies in the air and is feared by the gods shall be her husband." Acantha had repeated the oracle's words for me. She told me that she feared my husband was to be a monster.
Father was instructed to bring me to the hill dressed in bridal finery. I tried to go as bravely as I could. The honour to my Father's house had been restored, which helped my gait.
When my father and sisters were done saying goodbye to me, they simply left. A few minutes after, I felt a rush of wind.
I screamed. Hades, take me now! The wind had grabbed me. I looked down at everyone, but they had all gone. I screamed for someone to hear me.
"Don't be afraid, princess." I heard the wind murmur. I gasped.
"Zephyr? The west wind?" How was it possible that Zephyr was speaking to me?
"Yes. I am here to bring you to the palace of the Lord of the Hidden Valley." He murmured in his airy voice.
Before I could ask anything else, Zephyr had set me down gently in a beautiful garden. I felt a stir of wind move my hair and then, "Farewell, Princess. I shall meet you again soon."
"Thank you." I murmured.
"You are truly loved…do not be afraid…" I heard a faint voice say.
I looked around the garden. No one was there, and Zephyr must have already left me. I did notice, however, that the garden was beautifully set, with the roses in the centre and bushes scattered around, and all different colours. I twirled around to look at everything. A certain rose caught my eye. Perched upon the rose, was a stunning purple butterfly. I inched closer so I could study the spectacular creature with my eyes. Its wings moved slowly, and as a ray of sunlight began to near closer to the rose it was perched on, it flew away. I looked up and chased after it. When it flew to high, I twirled again and plopped down near the rose, which I now noticed had a strange yellow colour. As I was about to reach out and touch it, I heard whispers and murmurs. Fear flooded through me as I thought about a monster.
The voices came closer and I could now hear what they were saying.
"See how beautiful she is?"
"Did you see how she danced?"
"Look at how her hair turns into gold in the sun!"
"Who's there?" My voice faltered.
"Don't be frightened, dearie!" Said an old woman's voice. "We are the servants of the Lord of the Hidden Valley. We beseech your pardon if we startled you."
"We? I can't even see you!" I called out.
I heard chuckles. "Of course, dearie." Said the old woman's voice again. "We are not to be seen!"
"Yes…" said this time, a man's voice. "Really, Princess, come inside the palace. Welcome! Come, explore!"
My head titled left slightly, since I was confused. Acantha had cried that I would marry a monster, but does a monster have such kind servants and such a beautiful palace? I shrugged, since even if this wasn't a trap, I still might not survive my wedding night. But my mind told me not to be afraid.
The murmuring servants led me to a grand hall in the palace. It was beautifully decorated. There were story carvings, woven tapestries, and gems pressed into the walls. The servants had brought me to a dining hall. It glittered all around me.
"Here, Princess, come and eat. Your journey must have been a hard one." A little girl's voice said. I felt a small hand grab mine and lead me to a dining table, which was covered with dishes of deliciously looking foods. A chair was drawn for me, and I sat down. Dishes of many different foods were brought to me. The servant girl who had took my hand began to sing. She had a clear and lovely voice. She sang songs that a bard would sing, but she put more emotion into the songs than any other bard I heard sing before.
I hummed along with her as she sang a familiar song, but when she reached the sad part of the story, I felt a plunge of guilt. Father, Acantha, and Medea had been terrified of the oracle's words, and here I was, listening to a little girl singing merrily! I made a promise to myself to find a way to reach my sisters and father if I survived my wedding night.
As soon as the end of my promise repeated itself in my head, I remembered what I was to marry. How could the gods be so cruel? I decided to enjoy what little time I had left.
When the little girl finished her song, I clapped my hands. I tried to imagine what she looked like, but no image would come to my mind.
"Please, mistress, follow me!" She said.
"Where are you?" I asked her.
"We are over here." The girl and voices of only women said together. "Listen to the sounds of our voices together!" They laughed. I followed the sounds, and then I felt the little girl's hand grasp mine. She led me down a brightly lit hall. It was covered with sheets of bronze…back home we used them as mirrors, but these reflected light. When I first entered the hall, I was blinded, but once my eyes adjusted, I could fully appreciate how beautifully the hall was decorated. It even had gems stuck in the walls.
The little girl led me to a bathroom, where there was an enormous bathtub. The women said together, "We shall bathe you so you may be fresh and beautiful for the Lord." Buckets of warm water were poured into the tub. One of the servants handed me a robe, which I put on, completely embarrassed. Usually I wouldn't be, but I did not know these servants. I undressed myself and slipped into the tub.
My bath was a wonder. The water was always warm and did not grow dirty. There were rose petals in the water. I scooped one up with my cupped hands and buried my face into the petal and water. It smelled lovely.
I was scrubbed clean and then my skin was rubbed with oil. I could see from the mirror that my skin was glistening. Medea would always rub oil on herself after a bath, but she did not look like I did now. Perhaps our servants are not as skilled in the art of the bath. A servant handed me the robe and brought me to a dressing room next to the bathroom. A chair was drawn, and I sat down slowly.
Gowns of all different kinds were presented to me. The servants debated over which would look best. "Do you approve of this one, mistress? The violet will surely set off your eyes nicely."
"Very well." I said, startled. I really did not care what gown I wore.
I was dressed in the gown, and then the servants began to paint my lips with red. They put kohl over my eyes. They presented me with a mirror to see myself.
I did not know how it was possible that this princess in the mirror was me. She couldn't be. I was plain Psyche. This princess could not possibly be me. She was beautiful. But as I continued to look, I realized that she was me…now. My face had changed, but my heart had not.
"She looks even more beautiful than before!" I could hear one of the servants whisper.
Then, I heard the door creak open. I heard one servant murmur, "It's time to meet the Lord, princess. Come."
My eldest sister had told me of what happens when a woman was brought to the bedchamber on her wedding night. But Acantha had told me a long time before I was to marry what I thought to be a monster. I had been, then when Acantha explained, afraid as well, but now that my terrifying wedding night was to be shared with a fearsome creature, my fear elevated and caused me to tremble madly.
"Don't be afraid, beautiful mistress." A servant's voice murmured. Invisible hands gently helped me from the chair I had sat on. They led me down one of the halls in the marvellous palace. For a moment, my fear ran from me when I saw how beautiful the carvings on the walls were. But once I saw a detailed carving of the Minotaur of Crete eating what seemed to be the remains of a maiden, my fear swallowed me, and I delayed taking my next step.
"Come, mistress." Invisible servants whispered together. I wanted to resent them, but could not. Instead, I choked back the tears that threatened to roll down my cheeks, and continued my journey.
It seemed like a year had passed as I walked down the lonely hall, but I did reach an end. There, before me, stood a large door. To me, it looked like the entrance to the Underworld. The door creaked open. I swallowed with some difficulty and stepped through. "You're ready for the master…" The voices whispered. And with that, the door was firmly shut.
I had entered a dark chamber. My eyes blinked several times to adjust to the dark, while my hands transformed into trembling beings. I could see faint outlines of a bed in the centre of the chamber, and two chairs in the far right. I sank slowly into one, my eyes continuing to scan the room, but since it was so dark, my attempt was futile. I was terrified that the monster would find some way to amuse itself by torturing me or killing me. I wasn't ready to die or experience such grave pain. The courage I had had on the hill earlier that day had abandoned me for good. A sea of tears formed in my eyes and spilled onto my cheeks. They fell down silently. I looked down at my hands, which were shaking so uncontrollably that it seemed as if they had taken a life of their own.
It was when I looked down at my hands that I heard a footstep. Petrified, I looked up and around. My heart beat wildly when I heard, "You needn't be so frightened, my beautiful bride."
The voice was male and young, and it sounded kind; strange for a monster. I looked around the room for the owner of the voice, and wondering if I preferred him invisible like the servants, or not. I found a shadow in the corner farthest from me. It came closer to me. I swallowed, again, with some difficulty. "But I am frightened."
"Now, why should you be? I have given you a beautiful palace complete with your favourite garden flowers. I have given you loyal servants who are eager to wait on you hand and foot." The shadow said. The voice began to sound softer.
I wanted to say that all those lovely things did not stop me from being afraid of the palace's master, the Lord of the Hidden Valley. But I did not, for my courage had long left, and the remaining fear had forbidden me to speak. But the shadow could read my thoughts, I think, since he chuckled gently.
"Come here, to me, Psyche. Please." Automatically I stood, but now I could not find the shadow.
"Where are you?" I asked.
"Here." He said. I felt a hand grasp mine. A strange shot ran through me; one of warmth. I would have expected more fear to devour me, but it did not.
"I can't see you." I said as the shadow turned to face me. It was true; I only saw an outline of a figure. I could not decipher the dark image and see a face.
"See me with the power of your touch." He whispered. And then he said in a normal voice, "Psyche, I promise I shall never hurt you. You needn't be afraid." The shadow released my hand, but his fingers traced their way from my hand to my cheek. My back stiffened and my breathing grew heavy. "I told you that you needn't be afraid." He said again.
"My father and sisters believe you a monster." I stammered.
He laughed. "Do I feel like a monster? Touch me and see for yourself. Go on."
I didn't know what to do. I hesitated until he laughed again. His laughter was…what could it be? Laughter. But it was not a cruel laugh. It was a true, happy laugh. How was this possible.
"It's alright, Psyche, we are married." He took my hands and put them on her shoulders. I let them stay there for a moment, and then I moved my hands over his arms. He did not object, so I let my hands continue. I felt arms connect to the shoulders. Ten fingers. The skin I felt was soft, and had warm, fuzzy hair growing on it. There were no scales or horns growing from the skin. When I touched his hands, he took mine gingerly and put them on his chest. Again I felt his soft hair growing. I moved my finger downward towards his stomach. I felt his navel and I blushed. I didn't want to touch below his waist. I was still afraid of the mysteries of the male body. I let my hands fall to my sides.
"Am I still a monster to you?" He chuckled warmly. I tilted my head to one side but did not answer. "Here." He mumbled as he took my fingers again. He pressed them to his cheek. The skin was young and smooth. He was beardless. I felt a perfectly formed nose. I felt two eyes and their long eyelashes. I felt a pair of full lips. My index finger lingered on his lips for a moment, but then I forced them to go.
"No…you're human." I breathed.
"It must be difficult to understand why, Psyche, but you are never to see me in light, only in darkness. Can you trust me?"
I titled my head again. He had avoided answering. Was he human? A god? Maybe a centaur, since I did only feel his upper body I wouldn't know. But centaurs are supposed to be brash…correct? My mind swam. "Who are you?"
"Please, Psyche, I cannot give you that answer. But, don't be afraid of me. Know that I promise to love you forever and I wish to make you happy. Please trust me." He pleaded.
I did not answer. How was I to trust this husband of mine? But I found that my heart had already melted and offered itself. "I trust you." I whispered, surprised that I could so quickly.
I felt his hands touch my waist. They moved to my back, and then I felt them connected to his arms, which were now wrapped around me. One hand disappeared from my back, and then reappeared to gently touch my chin. The fingers on his hands softly pushed my face up, and I saw the shadow come closer and closer…until I felt his full lips pressed against mine. My eyelids closed without my mind's consent, and my lips pressed back. My arms wrapped around him and then I felt…
When we broke apart, I gasped, "You've wings!" I could almost feel him smile sheepishly.
"Yes." He answered. I stepped behind him and touched the massive wings that ripped out from his back. They were strong and covered with soft little feathers. He turned around and held my waist. All of a sudden, I did not feel my feet touching the ground. I was flying. He and I soared up higher. This wasn't a regular chamber, it was a tower.
"You won't drop me…my lord?" I asked. I could feel him holding me.
"Never. You said you trusted me." I sensed a grin form on his face.
"Oh, I do, my lord." I smiled.
"Ah, what a lovely smile you have." We flew downwards and he set me gently on the floor. His thumb touched my cheek, and rubbed away the tears that had dried and crusted.
"What am I to call you?" I asked.
He laughed again. The wonderful sound filled the chamber. "Yes, well, the Lord of the Hidden Valley is a bit long, I daresay. You need not call me by name."
I bowed my head. His fingers lifted my chin just as they had done earlier. "You are not still afraid of me?" He murmured.
"No." I responded. And with that, he lifted me into his arms and laid me on the bed. That night, I lost myself to him, and discovered the secret I was first afraid of. A long while had passed until he was sound asleep and I laid in his arms that I realized just how much I lost myself to him.