My Tragedy of Love
Of all of the flaws of men, perhaps the cruelest is pride. Pride betrays its victims. One assumes their pride is a strength, the fruit of a life of hard labor, their crowning glory. But then one's devotion to their pride and reputation leads to disaster. And perhaps no one has learned the cruelty of pride like I have. I still cry myself to sleep that the only man I ever loved died because of my pride. If the immortal goddess of hunting, animals, and maidens was so weak, a mortal cannot be better. So I, Artemis, am about to tell you my tale so you shall never know my pain.
Thousands of years ago, I had taken up hunting in Crete. A particularly fleet-footed breed of wild goats resided there at that time. I loved the challenge they gave me. The goats were also intelligent and familiar with Olympians. As soon as they saw my shape, they would quickly camouflage themselves in the forest. But I also enjoyed the moments when I was not hunting, for I loved simply walking in the forest. The fresh smell of pine emanated from every corner. A wide, beautiful lake encompassed the forest. But I most enjoyed an old laurel, perhaps older than the Olympians, where some have claimed to have heard the voice of Gaea herself. Such an unspoiled paradise has been rare ever since man began its foolish pursuit of civilization.
I was musing on the impudence of men like Aktaion when Merope ran toward me. The other Pleiades trailed behind her.
"Lady Artemis, I have bad news." Her voice was breathless.
"A giant man has appeared here. He chased after us across the entire island. We were barely able to lose him by the lake."
I wrinkled my nose. It seems lustful men are constantly trying to elope with my nymphs. Then I am forced to kill them. "Who is this giant?"
Taygete jumped in. "He came from Chios. He claimed he was looking for a king named Oenopion, but he was distracted by us."
Suddenly, I heard tremendous footsteps behind me, like the Titans had somehow returned. The intruder's shouts were as loud as the call of an angry crow. "Why are you running away? Sorry I killed your rabbits!" Soon, he was in front of me.
The intruder was a towering figure, with enormous arm muscles indicative of much practice with a bow. He held a large club and a shiny sword encrusted with rare jewels I daresay were as vibrantly colored as any Hades owns. A large black dog stood beside him, as well-muscled and ferocious-looking as any of my own, more wolf than dog. But it still licked the intruder's hand as if it was any tame pup. Had he been a woman, I would gladly have allowed him to join as a huntress. But any man who dares to hunt on my island without permission deserves the punishments I inflict. I readied my bow.
"Hello there!" The giant was jovial, unaware of what was about to happen to him. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
"You are a man."
He stared at me, and then laughed. "Very observant!"
"You are hunting on my island without permission. I cannot trust you. Tell me why I should not kill you right now."
The man chuckled. Clearly, he did not know what was good for him. "Well, I am very handsome, I cleared Chios of wild beasts…"
I had heard enough. "I am a maiden goddess. I do not fall for good looks. I think I shall force your own dog to eat you."
Finally, the man showed some common sense. He fell on his knees and removed all of his meat from his satchel. "I am very sorry, Lady Artemis. I should not have made this terrible mistake. I offer to you all of the meat I have that you may forgive me." This man respected me. I knew I should still kill him. Maybe with my arrows instead of with his dog so he would not feel pain. I readied my bow.
But when I looked down at him, I could somehow not bring myself to commit the act. It seemed a shame to ruin such fine muscles. The poor dog might never adapt to wild life, either.
"Fine, I shall allow you to live. But you will tell no one I allowed you here. And I will kill you if you do not continue to give me offerings." I was sure the man would be dissuaded by such harsh terms and would leave.
However, I underestimated the man's stupidity.
"Fair enough. Oh, by the way, if you could give me some hunting tips, since you are the goddess of it…"
My fingers inched toward my bow. "Do not overstep your boundaries! I am still an Olympian, and you are still impious and impudent!"
The man put his hands up. "Okay, okay."
"Respect me, or die."
He whimpered. "I understand, Lady Artemis."
"Good. Now, what is your name?"
"I would rather not say. You see, there are some people coming after me. Oenopion wants me dead, and I doubt Eos is very happy with me either. I would like to stay anonymous."
I could only imagine what he had done to make the apple-cheeked dawn angry. Still, his disrespect vaporized my self-control, leaving me like Heracles when he killed his family. But the man was already turning to go, even faster than a goddess.
I do not know what force propelled the words from my mouth. Perhaps it was how piously he had begged, or the fact that the meat he had given me was cooked exactly right, or the beauty of his dog. But maybe—though any man or god would be shocked to read these words—I found his disrespect amusing.
"Try confusing the goats by diverting their attention with that dog of yours. Then you can cut them down easily."
The man turned back. "Thank you, Lady Artemis. And my name is Orion."
That was a very powerful name. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The next day, as my brother's chariot rose over the horizon, Opos woke me. "I am sorry to wake you, Lady Artemis, but will we be canceling the games?"
I always held regular games for my nymphs and myself in order to keep ourselves in the proper shape for hunting. Canceling the games would be the essential equivalent of my brother allowing a mortal to drive Helios. "Talk sense, Opos. We will not be canceling the games. Orion is no reason to allow our athletic condition to deteriorate, is it?"
"No, my lady… it is not." She turned to the other nymphs. "Games will continue! Lady Artemis's orders!"
The games are in fact just a façade. No mere nymph has any hope of besting me. But their hopes of besting me result in them putting forth their very best effort, allowing them to become more athletic and better suited toward hunting and archery. I will allow for no soft toga-laden manicured bodies amongst my ranks.
I strode toward the trail where the games were to be held. The Amnisades had already set up a course. The first of the events was to be a footrace, in which I was to compete against some of my fastest nymphs, who could outrun a stag. I had felt Alkyone was beginning to show some softness. I hoped a competition would help her get back into shape in order to hunt stags.
"On your mark… get set. Go!"
I ran at a sluggish pace for an Olympian. But I was still much too fast for a nymph. "The winner is… Artemis!" If any nymph was disappointed, they gave no sign.
The next event was archery. I had chosen to allow for teams for this game. But, I never miss. No nymph got even the slightest chance to best me as a result. The target was pockmarked with holes toward the end. But the other nymphs had performed fairly well. In particular, Taygete had landed only ten less shots than I had.
Then, it was time for discus throwing. Many of my nymphs had become nervous about the event because of the fate of a mortal king named Acrisus. I only faced Sterope, Merope, Hylale, and Maia as a result. Maia and Sterope missed entirely, their discuses bouncing a few feet away. Merope's discus only made it to a nearby pine, plunging itself into the bark. Hylale did well, reaching an old oak far off. But when my turn came, my discus spun so quickly it was simply a blur. It landed far off on the shores of the lake.
But I could not allow myself to enjoy this miniscule victory, for a dark shadow loomed above the nymphs. "Very nice." Orion chuckled. "Do you mind if I try my hand at this game? I think I could win."
The nymphs turned in solemn silence toward me. I should have shot Orion. He was a blasphemer, how could I not punish him? He had committed an ultimate offense against me by thinking himself superior to me. No mere mortal man should be allowed to disrespect me so.
And yet… I could not coerce myself into killing him. He somehow seemed more than mortal. No powerful giant like Orion, so tall, fair, and skilled could be a mere man. If he was not a man, it was not so offensive for him to think he could join my game. After all, nymphs were allowed to compete, were they not?
"You may try your hand against me in a discus-throwing competition. However, should I best you, and I assuredly will, I sentence you to death by my arrows."
"I accept your terms, Lady Artemis."
I threw my discus further this time. It skipped off the surface of the water and landed on the opposite bank.
Orion gulped. I believe he knew his life was now forfeit. But then he sighed and prepared to throw his discus. I had to admire his perfect combination of grace and strength. The muscles of his shoulders bulged as he pulled back the discus with perfect form. Suddenly, I found myself blushing. I chided myself. I was a goddess, a dignified Olympian, not an amorous schoolgirl! Regardless, Orion's hip movements were impeccable.
Orion finally threw the discus. But it did not look like a discus.
It flew with as much grace as a hawk at the speed of a hummingbird, never slowing, never stopping. Zephyr picked up the discus and let it settle into the dust a little ahead of mine.
No mortal, giant or not, can be allowed to best an Olympian! I glared at Orion as my hands inched toward my bow. But as I raised the bow, Orion knelt at my feet.
"Lady Artemis, I meant no offense. I know you are infinitely superior to me and…Uh…all men, and I only ask for forgiveness and my life. I'll do anything you ask."
I knew such words were mere flattery, Orion desperately bargaining for his life. But here was a mortal man, who had the blasphemous ability to beat me—and yet still admitted my superiority. It was refreshing, a man knowing himself so well. Besides, he could be a great help to me.
"On your feet, Orion. As you have rightfully conceded my infinite superiority, I will allow you to live. In fact, because of your remarkable abilities, I will allow you to hunt with me for one night. You should be quite honored."
"It would be my pleasure, Lady Artemis. Thank you for not killing me."
I nodded. "Tonight at exactly nine o'clock. Do not miss it if you value your life." But I did not in fact wish to send him to Hades. Though I knew I knew I should have exercised my divine wrath, somehow I felt something much different.
I was a cat, batting at a string. Orion was interesting, something between a man and a god. I had heard of creatures like this, but never met one. He was dangerous. He could be the ruin of the huntresses.
And, though it shames me to remember this now, I wondered if I was truly better than him. But this mortal was so modest, in spite of his blasphemous skill. Such an interesting being could not truly be my enemy, could he?
And I had made my decision. Though some part of me knew it wrong, I was determined to become Orion's friend.
So, as Helios fell to the earth, I headed toward my favorite hunting ground. The curly-fleeced goats were in herds here, brown bears following in a neat procession. The sweet melodies of game birds still rang in my ear. The air carried the fresh smell of pine, and brine entered my lungs in healing gulps.
No sooner had I wondered the source of this brine than Orion appeared in front of me. "Hello, my lady!" He grinned at me. "I have appeared as promised."
I smiled. In spite of his near hubris—or perhaps because of it—I was happy to see him. "Thank you for coming. It would certainly be a shame to waste my best arrows, would it not?" That was a jest I had learned from Apollo.
Orion chuckled. "Might not work anyway. I am pretty strong."
"That is your blasphemous side again, I suppose. I suggest you still proceed with caution." Though my intention was a true solemn warning, I found myself stating this in a frivolous tone.
Regardless, Orion appeared to suddenly recall I was a goddess. "My lady… You are…Uh… truly the master of wit?" He cringed. At another time, perhaps this would have reignited my anger. But not now.
"That is enough flattery. Now, the best time for hunting has arrived. A particular herd of goats has awakened. They provide the best challenge, and have the most scrumptious meat of any animal on this island. You will need to use your dog to distract them."
Orion nodded. "His name is Sirius."
No sooner had he said this than the most healthful-looking herd of goats I had seen so far appeared, on the run from some unseen predator. Their pace quickened upon seeing our looming shapes. But as Orion released Sirius and we hid behind a tree, the goats sped toward an old oak—exactly where I wanted them.
I darted behind several trees, unseen by any animal. As the goats entered my range, still oblivious, I strung my bow behind my back. An arrow sprung forward, glinting in Selene's silver light. It pierced the hide of a goat, the beast shuddering as it fell to the ground. I never miss. More goats fell from my painless arrows. I never miss. But soon, I realized I had made a mistake.
The remainder of the herd was out of reach. There would be no way to catch them now without running ahead, revealing myself. Then the goats would run at their full speed, and I would not be able to best my previous record. I tasted a tang of disappointment as I put down my arrows. I would have to wait until the next night…
But then Orion and Sirius jumped from a Cyprus ahead. Too early for the goats to react, Orion cut the goats down with his sword. They bleated, without any use, for their lives were already over, the blood spurting from their throats. Any goats left ran without any pattern, easy for Sirius to pick off. I had to admire his execution. I decided it had not been a mistake to allow this man to hunt with me.
I walked out from behind the tree. "You are a fine hunter, Orion."
"Thank you, Lady Artemis. I am quite—" A bear sidled up to him. "Oh, that probably is not good. Um…"
I had left my arrows elsewhere. By the time I could reach them, Orion would already be dead. And I could not take the mind of this bear, for it was too consumed by bloodlust. I merely hoped Orion had some plan.
Orion threw himself upon the bear. I could only think that this was an idiotic idea, something only a man could devise. But to my surprise, Orion's strength prevailed. The bear took slow, trembling steps backward as Orion strained against it. His muscles were almost stretched to their physical limit as he hugged the bear. The bear fell to the ground. Upon regaining its senses, the bear trudged away.
I ran over to Orion. "What a feat of strength! And you have collected a copious amount of goat meat."
"Thank you, my lady." He dropped his share of meat and turned to go.
Some part of me told me this was still a mistake, that I should lead Orion out while I still could. But again, I silenced this. Apollo often tells me I have a heart filled with ice worthy of Boreas. But now, it was as warm and free as Zephyr. "Do not leave! Stay with me by my campfire."
Orion rushed back. "It would be my honor."
We walked to my tent in silence. I lit a campfire as Orion prepared the chevon. I was unsure of how to begin a conversation with this mortal. I understood he must be afraid of me. After all, I had nearly exercised my right to execute him for hubris, and now I was allowing him to hunt with me! He must have been nervous that anything he said would be justification for his death. I realized I had to start the conversation if he was to be my friend.
"Tell me, Orion, where have you learned your abilities? You are much stronger than any other mortal."
Orion grimaced. "Wow, I have told this story more times than I can count. And no matter how many times I tell it, it is always just as embarrassing."
I feigned a scowl. "Tell me. You would not disobey a direct order from a goddess, would you?"
"Uh, no, my lady?"
"Good. Then, you shall tell me."
His grimace deepened. "Well, I was conceived by godly urine and a cow hide."
"Are you jesting?"
"No. My father was a man named Hyrieus. He had the, uh, exalted Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes as guests. So they let him have any wish. Now, my father did not really want any worldly goods. The only thing he wanted was a son. The gods told him to skin his best bull and lay it on the floor. My father obeyed. The gods urinated on the hide, and I started to form out of it. But my father left me in for more than nine months, so I grew gigantic. Poseidon spared me the humiliation by saying that he was my father, and he gave me the power to walk on water. But my real parents are urine and a bull."
That was far from the strangest birth by the gods. After all, Helen had hatched from a swan egg. "So, what brings the son of Poseidon's urine to Crete?" If I was to trust him, I would need to understand his character.
"Well, that is another long story. I married this lovely woman named Side. But she was sent to the wealthy one. I went back to hunting these wolves in an island called Chios to keep myself from grieving over her.. A princess named Aero was impressed by my skills and wanted to marry me. But the king was this arrogant guy named Oenopion, Lord Dionysus's favorite son, who kept postponing it. We started to get angry at him."
I could sympathize with this sentiment. Many royal fathers were overprotective, not allowing their daughters to join me as huntresses. "I can see why. What happened then?"
"One night, I got drunk, and I, uh… joked about raping Aero."
I had known to expect far worse from men. "Well… I do not approve. Did the king not allow you to marry her then?" I knew little about this subject. As soon as a woman was betrothed, they became the responsibility of Hera and Aphrodite.
"He waited until I was asleep and poked out my eyes with Aero's hairpins. Then he threw me out of the castle."
That was no harsher than any of my punishments. But somehow, I could not think Orion could have deserved blindness. "But you are not blind now. Or are you? If you are, perhaps that makes your achievements even more impressive."
He shook his head. "No. Hunting became impossible without the use of my eyes. But I was wandering around Greece as a beggar when I heard hammers clanging in Lemnos. I figured I must be close to one of Lord Hephaestus's forges, and I was right."
I smiled. "Very resourceful!"
"Thanks. So in his, uh, boundless kindness, Hephaestus lent me a Cyclops named Kedalion to guide me to the east, where I could get my eyes back. Kedalion was a great kid. Full of jokes."
I could not imagine that any attendant of the forge god would be much given to frivolity. "You met the dawn, then."
"Yeah. She wanted me to stay as her 'companion'." He winced. "I had no interest in any of that, so I left. But Lady Eos told me that Crete had the best goat season this time of year. And then I disrespected a goddess and here I am."
Orion clearly had lived an interesting life, to say the least. I imagined so much suffering had shaped him into the best man I had ever met. "Here you are."
Orion chewed on his chevon, searching for words. "Love ruined my life, a whole lot of times. I guess it is really for the best that I hunt with a maiden goddess now."
I found myself leaning toward him. "I think it is for the best as well."
Orion smiled. "Yeah." We laid there in silence for a while, basking in the warmth of Hestia's gentle flame, staring up at the heroes Zeus had drawn in the stars. But all too soon, Orion rose to go. I nearly wanted to pull him back to the ground so he would not leave me.
"I enjoyed hunting with you, Orion. Come back tomorrow."
"Farewell, Lady Artemis." I stared after him as he left.
I had been oblivious to the foreign world of men, except when their actions annoyed me. I was still unsure of whether Orion was truly worthy of becoming my first hunter. I needed to consult my family on this matter.
It took me an hour to get to Ithaca, where my mother was residing at the time. I walked to my mother's tree house. "Mother? Are you here?"
Leto stepped out. "Hello, dearie. It has been a while since your last visit. Come in, I made tea. Apollo is here with his wife."
My stomach turned. Apollo's promiscuity frightens me. I could still not believe that Apollo had kidnapped Koronis at such a young age, even if it was mandated by his oracle. I liked their son, Asklepius, as much as I liked any man who is not Orion.
"So," Leto said, forcing my attention back to reality, "What brings you back to your old mother?"
I sat down on my mother's couch. "Well, a giant has taken up residence on my new hunting grounds in Crete. He was chasing after the Pleiades."
Leto sipped her tea. "I take it he is in the fields of Asphodel now?"
Normally, my mother is capable of understanding my thought processes. But not today. "No, he is not. This man is Orion, a humorous, strong man who I do not despise. I invited him to hunt with me."
Leto narrowly avoided choking on her tea. "Well, that is… unusual. How did you like hunting with him?"
"That is what I wished to discuss with you. Orion makes me feel…warm."
"What do you mean?"
"I am unsure of how to explain it. Normally, I try to detach myself. I get joy from hunting, and being in wild, unspoiled spaces… but Orion makes me want to not be alone. After hunting, I could not think of anything but whether he would stay… or perhaps whether I would hunt with him again."
Leto drank her tea for an excessive amount of time. Then she burst into giggles. "Oh, Artemis. I knew this was to happen eventually."
What my mother meant, I suspected. But I still needed confirmation. "What was to happen?"
"Artemis, you have felt the pull of Eros for the first time. It sounds to me like you have been struck deeply by one of his arrows."
No, I could not believe that was what was happening to me. I was a maiden goddess, not controlled by the forces that prey on men and gods. Orion was handsome, strong, and better than any man I had met. But I would not compromise my chastity for him, or anyone. "Mother, do you really think so?"
"I have felt the pull of Eros before. Of course, Zeus abandoned me for that hussy who mothered Hermes. But trust me; you are in love with this Orion."
"Artemis, under the pull of Eros? Well, I may want to see this. It seems like yesterday you told our father you never wished to marry."
I spun around to see a smirking Apollo, holding hands with Koronis. "You are so ready to give up your maidenhood to this…giant? And a man who you nearly killed for trespassing when you first met him, I might add."
"Well… Orion is more modest than any other man, even though he's so skilled at hunting. He is also very clever and strong."
Koronis sneered. "Well, you have been so cold for years now. None of the Olympians would want to marry someone so icy. I advise you not to get used to this Orion."
She had a lot of nerve. I inched toward my bow. "If you were not the wife of my brother, you would certainly not be alive right now."
Leto put her hand on my shoulder. "Artemis, dear, try to control your temper."
Simultaneously, Apollo silenced Koronis. "Let me fight my own battles, love." He then turned to me. "Artemis… I understand that it is not really my place to tell you what you can and cannot do. But you have not yet seen the true cruelty of men."
"I have seen some brutality from men. After all, I have had dealings with Aktaion, Alpheos, and Agamemnon."
"You have not been close to any of these men. Just ask our mother."
I had an irrational desire to shoot my brother. "I am aware of how badly our father has behaved. I was just talking about it, in fact. But Orion has none other than me, unlike our father."
Apollo gave me a grim smile. "Perhaps you can say that now. But all of my sex have a fatal flaw. Every man, no matter how wise or strong, is destroyed by their pride. Many make the mistake of hubris, thinking themselves the equals of the gods, as you have seen. But for many others, pride may manifest in more subtle ways."
"What is your point?"
"I want you to be careful. You are my little sister. I feel I must protect you."
I laughed. "I am not your 'little sister'! I was born an entire minute before you! I helped deliver you when you were just a babe!"
"Oh, do not remind me."
I jostled him in good nature and turned to go. Leto waved after me. "We will be visiting you in Crete soon! How about we bring Asklepius? Apollo tells me he learned to bring back the dead! Goodbye, dear!" I hoped not. My father would not be happy, and Apollo would then bring his vengeance.
As I headed toward Crete, my brother's chariot rose in the west once more. I willed it to fall again. The sinking of Apollo's chariot would mean night. Night meant I could hunt with Orion once more.
For months afterward, Orion consumed my life. During the day, we took part in frivolous games, excluding my Nymphs. I had no use for them now. They were not as strong as Orion.
During the night, I hunted goats and bears with him. Orion became steadily even more skilled, never missing. Then we would lie by the campfire. I told him of blasphemers and rapists who I had faced over the years, and he told me of fanciful heroic deeds. I knew and cared not of their truth. All was perfect, until one fateful night when goat season gave way to stag season and the pull of Eros consumed us both.
It began like a normal night. Sirius tackled stag after stag as Orion battered them with his club. I shot so many of them, Orion's satchel overflowed with the vibrant red meat.
I sat down by our campfire. "You did even better today, Orion!"
"Yeah, I guess I did." He had a far-off look in his eyes.
I did not like it. His vacuous expression made me recall Apollo's warning about the treachery of men. "Is something wrong?"
"No… Well…Artemis, I need to ask you something." We had long moved to a first-name basis. "But it is…kind of something that you would have killed me for asking when we first met."
I knew not what question, no matter how offensive, could make Orion look as if Helios had fallen to earth. "What is your question? I promise I will not kill you…very much." There was no threat left anymore. Nothing remained but a simple jest.
Orion chuckled, but he still looked far away. He took a deep breath. "Why do you not wish to marry? I know you swore never to marry when you were just a little girl, but why?"
Orion was certainly right that such words would have been his death sentence when he first appeared on Crete. And I knew not the answer. There was just some element of marriage, an institution designed to trap a woman in the love of a man for eternity that sounded inherently unappealing to me.
Suddenly, I found words escaping from my mouth unbidden. But they reflected the truth.
"I do not wish to become a prisoner of men. All men I have met wish for a woman who is merely a pretty trinket to show off to others."
"And you could never stand for that, I guess. So, I suppose you would like to be the owner in this situation?"
"No, that would never be real."
Orion leaned closer to me. "What do you want?" His voice had turned into a low whisper.
What did I want? That was a very good question. I knew not what any man could do to woo me. Otus and Alpheos had both failed. But somehow, I found myself leaning even closer as I struggled for words. Finally, words escaped. "Consider Sirius."
Orion raised an eyebrow. "A dog."
"I would dispute that. He is really a wolf. Too aggressive, powerful, and deadly to be a dog. But at the same time, he is a dog, I suppose. For Sirius is a wild beast who willingly rests upon your lap when you so wish. His wild nature is not lost, though. He can hunt as well as any wolf." I paused to lean yet closer to Orion. "So, he is wild, but will become tame, affectionate, even, for you. What I truly want is a man like that, a beast who is a man for me. A man, strong and proud, but one who throws away his pride so I can be free." My voice dropped to a barely-audible whisper. "Can you do that for me?"
Then a single, simple, softly spoken word transformed my life forever. "Yes."
I kissed him. He kissed me back.
For so many other Olympians, this would merely have been an everyday occurrence. But though I had lived hundreds of years, and was to live eons more, this was the most important event ever.
A fire simmered inside of me, melting the ice around my heart. The fire spread up to my cheeks, in a blush that I would have hid before. But now, consumed by Eros, I felt no shame.
I could only feel Orion, holding my back in a gentle but firm grip, warmth kindling my fire, softly kissing me again and again.
"I love you, Orion."
"I love you too, Artemis."
I knew, at last, I had found my mate. We laid together for the rest of the night, basking in the fires within and without. But when we awoke, a colder, harsher world awaited me.
Sterope woke me. "Lady Artemis, your family is here. They wish to meet your lover." Sterope suddenly looked nauseated. "Forgive me, my lady…but have you compromised your chastity?"
"No, I have not! Do you doubt my moral fortitude?"
"I did not mean to offend, my lady…Lord Apollo merely wished to know."
I grabbed Orion's hand. "I suppose there is no use in postponing this, then. But I suppose you might like Asklepius."
I met my family sitting in the grass by the laurel. Leto smiled at us. "Hello, Artemis! It has been months since the last time I saw you! And you—" she turned to Orion—"must be Orion! I am so glad to meet the man who charmed my daughter!"
They shook hands. "I am very pleased to, uh, make your acquaintance, Lady Leto." His formal speech sounded wooden, but I knew he meant well.
Koronis just glared as Asklepius stayed quiet, as I had foreseen. But Apollo's reaction to meeting Orion was perhaps the polar opposite of what I had expected.
Apollo gave Orion a friendly, hand-breaking handshake. "I am so pleased to meet you, Orion. Look at those fine muscles! I certainly think you are worthy of my sister!"
Orion blushed. "Ah, well…"
"So, you are a fine hunter, I hear." I narrowed my eyes. While I was pleased to see Orion was making friends, I could not help but think my golden brother had an ulterior motive.
"Well, yes. I actually cleared Chios of wild beasts as a favor for King Oenopion."
"An amazing accolade, to be sure, but this forest is far too treacherous, and filled with animals, for you to clear."
Orion puffed out his chest. "You doubt me? Well, I could clear this forest of animals in one day!" I wanted to warn him of Gaea's tree, surely hearing every word he said, but I could not get a word in edgewise.
"Well, I call on you to prove the truth of your words! As the god of reason, I cannot help but doubt you until I see proof. You may start now, but if you are not finished by sunrise tomorrow, I will know that you are nothing but another man drunk on his own pride. I wish you luck."
"Thank you, Lord Apollo!" Orion headed into the forest, repeating his boast as some sort of perverse mantra.
Koronis pursed her lips. "That man is far too arrogant." Before I could invoke my right to divine wrath, Apollo sent them off.
"I must speak with my sister in private. This matter is between only the two of us." Koronis, Leto, and Asklepius sauntered away.
Now, I could confer about my suspicions. "Apollo, what is your game here? I know you are not truly so fond of Orion, so what is your plan?"
Any guise of amicability on Apollo's face dropped. Now, I saw only intense, burning anger. "No, I do not like Orion. Let me warn you, Artemis. If you truly care about this mortal, you will not hunt with him again. In fact, I would rather that you not speak to him again."
I had expected some hostility from my brother. But this was more aggression than I had prepared for; indeed, I had little idea how to respond. "Apollo, are you intoxicated? I love Orion, and I see no reason why you should not think that good."
"Why should I not think your love good? Because Orion is a mortal, and you are an Olympian goddess! A goddess who has sworn herself to eternal chastity, I might add. It is beneath you to lie with a mortal man, no matter how strong or talented! Have you ever considered how small he truly is to you? How you will live for millennia after he has rested among the shades in the fields of Asphodel?"
"I could make him immortal. We have done so before, with Heracles and Dionysus."
"But even then, I cannot believe you are so fickle as to hate men and then so devote your life to one merely because he is strong and handsome!"
"I love Orion. I know not why you fail to see this fact for what it is! Perhaps I shall marry him!"
Apollo suddenly seemed like his energy had been siphoned out of him. "I expected more of you, Artemis, I truly did." He walked off.
Leto and Asklepius came back. Leto smiled, but it faded when she saw my expression. "I take it the conversation did not go well?"
My trudging away was the only answer my mother needed. "Wait!"
I turned to see Asklepius, holding an herb of some sort. "Take this if you are feeling depressed, my lady. It brightens the mood quite well."
But I did not take the herb. I somehow felt I had to grieve as Orion made to clear the forest. The only comfort for me was blessed sleep, coming as my impudent brother's chariot dropped to the ground.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by a scream. I instantly recognized the voice as that of Orion. He was answered by the eruption of an animal roar from the heart of the forest.
I called out for my family, and they soon appeared next to me. "Orion sounds like he is in eminent danger! I heard an animal roar."
Apollo took us to the center of the forest in his chariot, careful to not ignite the sun. We found Orion there, engaged in battle with some sort of enormous armored beast. His club hit the monster again and again, but its huge, crablike claws, glistening armor, and sharp tail parried his every blow.
Apollo nodded, his expression grim. "I feared as much. This is a monster called Scorpio, the son of Gaea herself. She must have heard Orion's boast from the laurel tree, and decided to punish him for his hubris."
"Can he fight it?"
"I am afraid not. Gaea tailored this creature to have armor stronger than any weapon."
I did not let him finish. Orion was in terrible danger! I needed to help him. "Orion, run! This monster is too strong for you!"
Orion heeded my advice, thank the Fates. He was faster than any monster; I knew that a fact. Soon he was out of reach. But Scorpio must have felt resentful that its prey had managed to evade it. The beast made toward Koronis, grabbing her in its claws!
"Help me! Please!"
Though Koronis had annoyed me, Apollo had saved my love. I owed the same to him.
I shot arrow after silver arrow at the monster. I never miss. But the arrows merely bounced off the creature's armor!
Scorpio was about to skewer Koronis on his tail. I knew not what that would do to Koronis, but it was clear to me that it could not be anything pleasant. I felt helpless, my hands tied.
But Leto threw herself at the beast. Being a titaness, she had incredible strength, much greater than any mere son of Gaea. Scorpio staggered backward.
And Apollo was no less heroic in saving his love. He shot the monster with his fiery arrows. It shrieked as its armor blackened and crisped, turning to dust. Leto blew the dust to return it to Gaea.
I could not help but feel envious of my brother. This monster had been sent to kill Orion. I should have been able to stop Scorpio. He somehow felt like my challenge. I could simply not believe that Apollo had taken that from me.
But I silenced these thoughts as Apollo ran toward the shore. "Well, that is not good."
"What is it?"
"Gaea sent not only a monster, but also a man named Candoan." Apollo pointed to a figure, awfully tall for a swimmer, bobbing up and down in the water. "He raped your Nymph Opos and is fleeing, hoping to avoid our wrath. Do not worry—I will kill him."
My eyes widened. Did Apollo think that I could not fulfill my responsibility to protect my Nymphs? "Why should you be the one?"
"Well, I am the best archer in Olympos, I hope you are aware. Or have you been asleep for the majority of your life?"
I laughed. "Certainly, there is one better archer than you!"
"Now, who would that be? Do you honestly think the son of Aphrodite could best me?"
Koronis giggled. "Oh, Apollo is the best, definitely. Have you ever even seen him?"
In hindsight, I definitely should have seen Apollo's plan coming. But then, I was too blinded by pride. "I am the best archer in Olympos! I never miss!" My fingers inched toward my bow, eager to prove the validity of my claims.
"Well, if this is true, I suggest you shoot Candaon, then. He is about to escape your divine wrath!"
I pulled back my bow. My silver arrow rocketed across the lake toward Candaon. The man ducked beneath the water.
Apollo smiled as Koronis clapped. "Well done, my sister! You truly are the best archer in Olympos."
I smiled, eager to bask in Apollo's admittance of my superiority. But something about Apollo seemed…off. I detected the faintest traces of a smirk on his face. With my brother, that could only mean that something was not quite as it appeared. Who was Candoan?
I raced to Opos's tent. "Opos, how are you feeling?"
"Very well, my lady. Is something wrong?"
"Opos, you were just raped by a Candaon! I would expect you to be more distressed."
"I was not raped, my lady. No one would dare. Candaon is just a nickname for some hunter from Chios. Not a rapist, as far as I know."
I was sure that Opos's words were intended to be innocent. But they set me on a rush back to the shore, where Apollo and Koronis still waited. But I had no time for them.
I turned into a salmon and swam a little out into the lake. Before long, I bumped into Candaon's body.
I almost wished to leave it there to be eaten by the lake creatures, so I could remain in ignorance of the terrible events that truly transpired.
But in the end, I needed to know the truth.
I turned back to a human form and walked out onto the shore. Since I could now see, I inspected the body of the alleged rapist.
But I held in my hands the cold body of Orion.
I could still see the lines of smiles on his battered face. The strong arms that had held me hung limp at his waist. The lips I had kissed sunken and pale.
I willed this to somehow not be. That I had not shot my love with arrows, that he still lived to hunt with me. I closed my eyes, praying that when they opened, Orion would rise.
But he still lay in my arms.
All at once, sounds returned. Apollo's laughter rang in my head.
I could not punish my brother. He was immortal.
But as he had killed my love, I could kill his.
With a scream, I pulled my bow. Another arrow pierced the heart of Koronis. Apollo fell to the ground, sobbing.
I tried to tell myself that this was his fault. He had brought Scorpio, had tricked me into shooting Orion.
But in the end, I could not blame him.
Because I did this. I killed him. It was my hand that wrought his destruction. Because I was blinded by my pride.
I shot him.
And I never miss.
Silver tears fell from my eyes, glistening like the dew on the mountains at dawn.
I tried to take my only love to Asklepius. To resurrect him.
But this is the final cruelty of the world. A bolt of lightning from my father ended them both forever.
Hermes guided the beautiful soul of Orion to Hades. I hoped that he would join with the heroes in the Elysian Fields. Nothing less would befit my lover. My Orion.
My hunting dog.
In the end, this was all but sound and fury. Because Orion was dead. The only man I had ever loved was dead.
Silver tears extinguished the fire within my heart. Sadness froze them into dark ice in a crust around my heart.
Ice that would never be melted. For I would never love any man again.
But Orion deserved a lasting testament to his heroism.
We had stared at the heroes in the stars. I realized that for Orion, it would only be proper for him to become one.
I raised my hand toward the heavens. One by one, they reformed to show Orion, heroic as ever, clutching a belt and his jeweled sword. But he looked so lonely.
I added more, more of the heroes of his story. Sirius ran beside him. The Pleiades trailed beside him.
Though I knew not why, Scorpio ran behind, never catching up.
To this day, every winter, Orion rises, dark and powerful, the clouds too scared to obscure him. But in the summer, Orion's nemesis, the monster Scorpio, rises behind him, and Orion turns to flee.
I hope that you, my dear reader, shall never experience what I have. That you may never now this tragedy of pride. I could not resist the urge to prove that I never miss. For his own part, Orion brought misfortune upon himself by his boasts. Apollo, too, was threatened that I would love a mortal.
In the end, pride is a traitor. I hope my story has shown you this.
And I hope, when you look up at the stars on a clear summer night, that you are reminded of my story. That you remember the treachery of pride and how it destroys of all you cherish. Because no one, no matter how wicked, deserves to live my tragedy of love.