a short by Adrian St .Claire
She was elegant in anger. A tendril of her hair, shining both fiery and soft, had fallen from her long braid to hang bouncing with curl by her ear. An angry vein rose from the skin of her pale throat as she raged, her curses an endless out pour, mixed with promises of justice and of revenge, the latter of which she commanded me to help her carry out. As if I would have denied her my help. As if she needed it. I wondered just how long it would be before I would find myself stealing up to the summit of Olympus to unchain her from the stone where surely her husband-brother would affix her. He could never seem to tame her.
Not the way that I could.
With a hand on her arm and my lips to her throbbing vein she quieted, merely breathed slowly, closed her eyes, and lost herself to oblivion, to the eternity of my touch. Ages passed before she found the words to speak once again.
"Oh, Aphrodite," she moaned in anguish. I caressed her thigh as words more vulnerable poured forth. "How can he be so unfaithful, so daring, so crass? I only wish to serve him, to love him as a wife should."
The age old question she had seemed to ask for centuries. "He is who he always was, sweet one," was always my answer. "You lay the cares and worries of a world of souls upon your shoulders, and think not of the petty gods and their games. Leave this mount in favor of a world all our own, one we can create. Come away with me, my love. You know mine is the only touch you crave."
At this she laughed, the sweet peals of amusement that brought sun beams to shine through blades of grass, and lit the paths of fair maidens and lost souls. She meant no harm, only her stubborn belief that the divine was unchanging made my proposal preposterous. I'd never told her that I'd already made our world, already laid away a place for us and all she must do is come.
"I promise you, one day you will carry me from this prison, from the man who torments me and my brothers and sisters who do nothing," she turned to me, caressing my face with hands softer than the fluffy clouds that separated our world from yours. In her eyes glistened tears, still unfallen, her bright brown irises reflecting her sorrow and pain. "But first, I will kill him," she vowed, two fingers to her chest as she bound herself to her words. "Zeus will burn in a prison in Hades, he will freeze in the greatest void. He will suffer as I have suffered, only forever, forevermore."
The first time that he forsook their wedding bed she came to me, crying, with offerings and tears. The goddess of love cannot ignore the tears that bring the Earth rain, or the sobs that give voice to the raging ocean and the howling winds, and so I turned to her and in that first glance fell into my own trap. Love is of all things unpredictable, and divine. How could I ignore the bright red tresses that fell about her face as she wept? How could I turn away from her eyes, green like new life, like spring, or her mouth, even when set into a frown? She was glorious, lying there, enchanted by Morpheus at my request, lulled into the land of dreams where her sorrow could not reach her.
"That is Hera, Aphrodite," Morpheus warned as his figure faded from view. "She may be young, but she is still Zeus's wife and sister, to do with as he will. Even the goddess of Love cannot change that.
But his words went unheeded, and I fell hopelessly for her in the time that passed, as she slept on my altar, covered in the warmth of my glow. I watched her sleep, I wrote her poetry, the divine language of the lovesick. I reached out and caressed her forehead, her cheek, the thin skin of her neck, the small hairs on her brow.
Hera enchanted me.
After some time had passed, Morpheus' spell wore away and she began to awaken. The god of dreams, who had decided to stay and keep me company as she slept, now faded as quickly as his spell.
"Be careful, Aphrodite," Morpheus warned me once more, his gentle voice as cold and foreign as the howling of wolves on a full moon night. His words fell on deaf ears.
Hera opened her eyes with a beautiful yawn, noticing first that she had fallen asleep on steps, and then that in her sleep I'd covered her with a blanket woven from the threads of great love, and then noticing me.
Her big green eyes grew wide as she beheld me where I sat, a few steps above her, and the faintest blush fell across her cheeks as she looked away.
"Hera, my queen," I spoke first. "You are more beautiful than even I imagined. Why do you come to pray at my altar? Do not the very heavens bend to the will of a goddess as captivating and powerful as you?"
She met my gaze in silence at first. Wonder was written on her face, and then a darker emotion passed over her countenance. "I came to pray, to beg you to spare my heart from love forever."
The power I held over that emotion was strong, and it was known far and wide that I'd turned many lovers away from desire to spare their hearts pain, but never a goddess, the queen of heaven.
"If I turn your heart to stone, how will you ever come to fall in love with your new husband, Zeus?"
It was well known that the marriage was arranged, and anything but happy. Hera shuddered in spite of the blanket draped over her thin broad shoulders. "Don't even speak his name to me, sweet goddess. I will never come to love him, and all that is in my heart now is hatred."
I reached out, then, and touched a finger to her brow, brushing away the strands of red that rested there. Hate and Love were two branches of the same tree that I tended diligently, and it was easy to feel from a touch to her skin that the poisonous juices of hate had already taken root deep inside her.
Those same juices were what caused her now to swear to me her revenge.
I pulled her ever closer in my arms, wishing to enveloping her in my essence, bathe her in my love, and she let me. What began as fascination with the young goddess had now quickly evolved into an obsession. The more that Hera had grown from the girl she had been when I first found her upon my altar, to the woman standing before me now, the more I had fallen for her, a willing captive of Love's trap. Morpheus words went blatantly hindered.
The sweetness of her pink lips against mine was intoxicating, and as I kissed the Queen of Heaven, I vowed silently to make her mine.
If I had to kill Zeus in order to do it, then so be it.
Hera sensed my resolve and pulled away from the warmth of my body long enough to rid herself of the white dress she had come to me this night in, her naked body radiating a power I was addicted to. She'd given much since our first encounter. Her pale skin was soft, and smooth, and with my hands and eyes I traced every inch of her, memorizing each curve anew, learning each hill and valley, delighting in the pleasured look that rolled across her face when I touched her.
"Can't you let it go?" I asked her after a few long silent moments had passed. She had pulled me into the bed we often shared, taking refuge in my arms, much warmer than the steps to my altar had been so long ago. It was a question I asked often, and with vehemence. "Forget Zeus. Think of me, and how lovely this is."
I was erring dangerously close to blasphemy, suggesting she divorce the King of Heaven and spend her days with me. Hera smiled. "I promise you, Aphrodite, I dream of nothing else. But I would not leave Zeus alive to torment us. Even if we leave this mountain in favor of a world all our own, he will find us, and surely kill you for stealing away his prize."
I wanted to argue, to claim that I would run and hide forever if it meant always being with her, but the anger she came to me with had given way to passion, and a moment later I was too willingly overwhelmed to say anything at all.
In the cool clear light of the next day I awoke alone. The bed where we had shared everything we could was cold. Hera had probably not even slept. The Queen of Heaven was always relentless once she decided to do something, and the oath she made to me the night before would never let her rest. I rose from the bed with a sigh, already weary with worry.
And then an earsplitting crash rent through the air, and a low rumbling followed. I dashed, naked, from my rooms out into the brilliant sunshine, shielding my eyes at the brightness before me. Zues, in all of his heavenly glory, stood radiant outside my altar, his hands on his hips as he waited for me to address him properly. I stammered through a greeting, too distracted by dark thoughts of what had become of my lover if her husband was here before me.
"I came to warn you, Aphrodite," Zues' voice boomed out, each syllable alighting the sky with new waves of golden brightness. "Hera had told me of her love for you, and were you of any consequence I would kill you now."
I processed his threat without a word, but raised my chin boldly, defiant even in silence. Lesser goddess I may be, but even Zeus would come to rue the day he threatened me. "Stay away from her, tiny goddess," he continued, "or you will find yourself in a world of trouble."
The Lord of Heaven smiled, his flashing teeth sickeningly white. He stepped closer, leering at me, his large eyes glued to my bare chest. "You are a pretty one. I have a mind to show you just what is missing between you two women," he spat the word, disgusted by our love. I snarled, stepping away when he reached out a giant hand to grab me.
"You would come to my altar to defile me in the light of day for all to see?" I shouted, although we were alone. Zeus paused to scan the area around us before looking back at me with a grin.
"We are alone," he caught hold of my wrist squeezing as I struggled. "And your petty altar is as good a place an any."
With a flick of his wrist he twisted my arm, forcing me to the grassy ground, the maniacal grin on his face the last thing I saw before I shut my eyes, resigning myself to my fate.
"Zeus!" the Heaven's boomed with another voice. "You demon!" and the warmth of the sun god upon me faded. I opened my eyes to see Hera, my great love, sword in hand, blade plunged deeply into her husband's chest. Golden blood spilled from the wound, and as the light in Zeus' eyes faded, the love in my heart for my queen grew.
But Zeus twitched, his heavy dead arms and legs shuddering as he sputtered, and came back to life. Hera grabbed me and pulled me gently into her arms, as we stood over her reanimating husband. "Are you alright?" she asked, looking me over. Zeus sat up, coughing.
"I'm fine," I told her, although I was a little shaken. My well being was much more threatened by what Zeus might do if we were around when he regained power. The God pulled the longsword from his chest with a grimace, still too weak to stand.
"We must leave," Hera insisted, pulling me away from my altar and down towards the grassy fields where the Lover's tree grew.
Quickly we escaped through the fields and then through rows and rows of trees, running as fast as we could for any place further away. Sometimes in our haste I fell, unable to keep pace with Hera's great wide steps.
When night fell we knew that the Lord of Heaven had lost us in the great expanse of his realm. The very trees seemed to enclose around us, hiding my nakedness in the cool leaves of their branches. Finally Hera slowed her relentless pace and turned to face me. All I had been able to see of her during our run was the long locks of her brilliant hair trailing behind her. Now I could see her face was streaked with dirt and sweat, and the vengeance I had seen in her eyes when a sword was plunged into Zeus's chest had melted into fear. She licked her lips.
"I've never killed him – tried to kill before," she admitted to me, her first words since she'd saved my life. She put a hand on either of my shoulders and stammered, "He came back alive, Aphrodite. Oh, can we never be free of him?" she mourned.
I took her weeping body into my arms, stroking her hair softly until her tears had dried.
"Remember when I asked you if you would come away with me?" I asked when she grew as silent as the dark woods around us.
She nodded, looking up at me, somewhat confused.
"I made it," I told her, the smile on my face warm and bright in the wake of our pending doom. "Just outside of Zeus' realm, the entrance is hidden, no one will ever find us if we go there, now."
The proposition must have been overwhelming because Hera stopped dead in her tracks to look at me, the expression on her face one of extreme indecision. In one part of Heaven her husband-brother waited, his brilliant eyes and shining skin endearing anyone to him, let alone his own wife, who joined the split deities of Heaven with their marriage. And on the other I stood, faithful to my Goddess as ever, love and all my tenants waiting to be spun into clothes for the both of us, forever.
The decision must have been horrendous, impossible for anyone, let alone Hera herself to make. Choose love, or choose duty. Choose happiness, or responsibility. Choose Heaven, or eternal exile.
The sky above had grown from dark to light, rolling peals of thunder and great shocks of purple lightening reflecting in my lover's eyes. "He is coming," the trees and blades of grass seemed to whisper to us in warning.
I searched Hera's eyes in my own and wondered what her answer would be. She seemed to be caught in indecision, and with Zeus coming she was stuck.
And then, to my horror, it was myself that I found stuck, the world around me unchanging as stone seemed to harden around my eyes. Hera, my greatest love, love's largest trap, had turned me to stone.
And there I stood for centuries.