That night, and the two nights following were uneventful. My husband made no attempts to touch me. We played stones, and he never lost, which I found irritating. I had always been the best at that game. And he was unnervingly polite about his superiority, though he did chuckle tonight when I could no longer hide my frustration, letting out a huff.
“Does my perfect Psyche have a personality flaw after all?”
I frowned despite his joking tone. “Of course, I’m flawed.”
“Perhaps. But you are still the closest to human perfection I have ever met.”
I shook my head, bothered to the depths of my soul. That concept of false perfection was what got me here in the first place.
“It is not only your legendary beauty—”
“Please don’t speak of my beauty,” I said, my heart racing.
“Only Venus is beautiful. I do not compare.”
“Hm.” I held back a roll of my eyes. “There are many types of beauty, Psyche. You have them all. Your soul…the beauty of your goodness shines from within.”
I looked down at my hands in my lap, my mind racing for a change of subject.
“Your lack of vanity is part of your beauty.”
“Enough,” I whispered. “Please.”
He remained quiet, and I felt the need to fill the void. “Every human, no matter how perfect they seem, will make a mistake. They will eventually let down the ones they love. Perhaps not on purpose, and not maliciously, but it is bound to happen. People make terrible decisions when they are frightened or desperate or lacking confidence. I am no different.”
Again, he was quiet a long while. “That is true of most. But I find it hard to imagine from you.”
Before I could say another word, I saw Mino hike his leg on the bedpost from the corner of my eye.
“Mino! No!” I began to stand.
“Mino.” The sound of my husband’s voice halted the puppy’s business and caused Mino to flop onto his back, tucked tail shivering between his legs.
I sucked in a breath when Mino lifted into the air, floating toward a stained-glass window, which swung open.
“What are you doing?” I raced forward just as Mino floated out of the window, his ears back as he looked at me helplessly. “Don’t hurt him!”
“Psyche,” he said softly at my side. “I am letting him out, albeit the lackadaisical way.”
The air froze in my chest as I watched Mino gently lowered to the ground below where he shook out his body, then gave me a questioning glance upward.
“It’s all right, boy,” I urged, my voice still shaking.
At the sound of my voice, he began to prance around the garden, doing his business and jumping at white moths that fluttered over his head.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “He was scared.”
“As were you.” No malice was behind the words, only hurt.
I shouldn’t have felt bad for assuming the worst of this secretive, strangely sensitive creature. For all I knew, his kindnesses were an act, carefully calculated actions to get me to trust him so he could strike. Not that he needed my trust to strike. Unless that was part of his binding agreement with his master.
I grasped my head in my fingers. Every time I thought of the various possibilities it made my head spin. It was impossible to make sense of it all.
“What is wrong?”
I shook my head, closing my eyes and opting for honesty. “You confuse me. All of this. I can’t understand it.”
“As I said before. Trust your instincts. Be like Sphinx.”
I peered down to find the traitorous kitten rubbing incessantly against what I assumed was my husband’s leg.
A scoff escaped me. “I think not.” Then I addressed the kitten. “Have some dignity.” She twined herself between his feet and around the other leg like invisible scratching posts, not caring at all about my opinion or the fact that he was a monster. I wondered how it felt. She certainly seemed to be in a state of bliss. Did he wear shoes? He didn’t clomp around like Renae. His hands were soft and humanesque, but perhaps only the top of his body was. He had wings. Was he part human, part serpent and something else? Three creatures in one? I wrapped my arms around myself and took a small step away.
Mino let out a high-pitched yelp below as he began to rise into the air, floating his way straight into my outstretched arms. His tail wagged fiercely, and he licked my face as I tried to turn away before setting him down. The moment his padded feet hit the ground Sphinx brought a tiny paw up, whacking him across the snout, and then the chase was on. My laughter rang out, coupled with the chuckles of my husband as we watched the two of them amble across the room. Mino grew frustrated and let out adorable yips when Sphinx jumped on furniture that was too high for him to reach.
When they knocked over a tall, painted vase, I gasped and reached for it, but it went through my fingers. I squeezed my eyes shut in anticipation of the shatter, but found myself swept from my feet, the sound coming from far away. I opened my eyes and found myself on the bed with Mino and Sphinx beside me. The broken vase was in hundreds of pieces on the floor in the corner.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling awful. “I won’t let them play in the room anymore.”
“Do not worry yourself over objects.”
“It was clearly priceless,” I argued.
“Everything except life is replaceable.”
I began to stand, saying, “I’ll pick up the big pieces.”
“Stay where you are. Your feet are bare and there are slivers. Renae is on her way.”
I crossed my arms, contemplating as Mino locked his jaw around Sphinx’s neck, only to be batted hard by the kitten’s back feet.
My family was rich by human standards. What set us apart from others was not just our titles, but our belongings. Not everyone of high standing in our society had priceless heirlooms. It made me wonder, yet again, about the enigmatic facets of my husband, a beast so wealthy his belongings were of no consequence. That was…beyond rich, and difficult to fathom.
I held both the puppy and kitten in my arms as Renae bustled in, carrying out pieces and then sweeping up the shards. When she was finished, she brought in a meal that I shared with Mino. Sphinx chased Renae and the broom from the bedchamber, probably off to hunt mice.
As I picked at the delicate, flaky fish I asked, “Do you ever eat?”
“I do not consume human food very often,” he answered from across the table.
“So, you eat ambrosia and drink the nectar of the gods?”
“Yes. But I require very little to sustain myself.”
“Can I see it? I know I can’t taste it, but I’m curious.” The food and drink of gods would cause a human to go mad.
A goblet appeared. Not as grand as I would have thought. Simple ceramic with vine etchings in gold around the edges and base. I leaned forward and peered inside, making a small sound from the back of my throat as my body seized tightly. The nectar shimmered like a glittering, soft rainbow of color, moving and shifting. I knew without a doubt the flavor would be slightly sweet, yet refreshing and wholesome. Everything inside of me wanted to reach for it. I needed it. One small taste…. the goblet disappeared, making me rear back. I hadn’t realized how close I’d been. My torso ached from pressing so hard against the table.
“Oh.” I cleared my throat.
“Indeed,” he said. “That was nectar. Would you care to see a sample of ambrosia?”
After how the nectar had made me feel, I wasn’t certain, but the temptation to see it had me shaking my head.
“Do you eat animals?” I asked.
“No. Our sustenance are the trees and fields of Olympus. Fruit and grains. Our land provides everything we need.”
“We? You mean immortals?”
He paused. “Yes.”
I nibbled bread that I’d dipped in salted olive oil. “If I guess what sort of creature you are, can you tell me if I’m correct?”
“No. But I would very much be interested in your guesses.” His voice held a hint of amusement.
“All right.” Mino whimpered, and I placed the last bite of fish in his mouth. “Echidna. Half-serpent, half—”
“Half woman. Many of the best hybrids are female.”
I tapped the table. I knew echidnas were female, but perhaps some of what humans believed was not true? Or there were creatures we hadn’t heard of. The oracle said my husband was a winged serpent. That might be so, but I’d felt his hands and his mouth. They were decidedly not the hands and mouth of a serpent. Now I had to wade through what I knew of the legends to try and narrow this down.
“A satyr?” They were known for their sensuality, and my husband definitely gave off that aura.
He laughed. “Satyrs have no wings.”
A light of hope flared inside of me. He was not saying yes or no, but he was giving hints.
I swallowed a drink of water, my heart pounding. “Are you Typhon?” Typhon was one of the deadliest creatures of legend, even an enemy of the god Jupiter. He was, indeed, a winged serpent with snakes for feet. Some say he had multiple heads. But were they human heads or serpents as well?
“Interesting choice.” His voice sounded dry. “Tall as a mountain, or long as a giant whale. Upper body of a man, indeed, lower body made up of hundreds of snakes. Fiery eyes. Dragon heads for fingers.”