She really was a mesmerizing sight. Her guards all watched from nearby, seeming baffled as to what she was doing there.
Finally, she dropped her hands, making tiny fists, and raised her chin. “You don’t have to kick the poor thing!”
The pigman’s eyes narrowed and he forced a laugh. “No worries, Miss, they don’t feel pain the same as us, you see?”
“That is not true.”
“Say, what’s your name, Miss?” The pigman licked his lips. “You seem familiar.”
She stiffened, the motion bringing Psyche to her full royal posture just as a wind gusted, her hood falling back to reveal rich waves of honeyed brown hair, shining like silk kissed by the sun and sea. The breeze picked up her hair, pulling it from beneath the cloth and blowing it out from her body. The farmer gasped, and the god gaped as she tried to wrangle the long strands back under her hood. Gods of Olympus, she was a sight.
A sting of pain caught Cupid on the knee and he hissed. What in darkness? Cupid peered down at the cut in his skin, now tingling. His arrow, no Psyche’s arrow, hovered above the spot where blood pebbled to the surface of his skin, then immediately healed over. In a moment of confusion, he looked back down at the pig stall and saw Psyche turning, shaking her head as if bewildered, then he saw her face. A rush of strong emotion hit him like a hurricane, swirling furiously around him, forcing his breaths to come in gasping waves, his eyes widening, his heart soaring.
His knee. His arrow. Psyche’s glowing face of perfection. His mind expanded, stretching wide enough to take in all of Earth and Olympus and all of the worlds beyond. The feeling strained his mind and heart, muddling everything he had ever known. Cupid began to tremble. He could not look away from the small sliver of her heart-shaped face beneath the hood, those soft and lush lips, and her creamy hands.
He loved her. There was not a single, miniscule part of him that did not love her. The feeling was all-consuming. A devotion more powerful and wondrous than anything he had ever known.
Somehow, his mind-spell over her had been broken much more quickly than normal, and she seemed to want to get as far as she could from the stall. She moved faster when the pig man shouted after her.
“Don’t you know it’s rude to walk away from a man without responding? Hey!” He glared at Psyche’s retreating back. When the largest guard passed her, heading toward the stall to deal with the mouthy farmer, the princess grabbed his arm and begged him to leave it—the pig farmer had no idea to whom he spoke. Within seconds the remaining guards were surrounding her as well, and they rounded the corner out of sight.
Cupid flew down at top speed, still invisible, and crushed his golden fist into the pigman’s face. The farmer, having no idea what hit him, flew back into the hay and manure, grabbing his face and yelling, flailing in pain and alarm.
Nobody shouts at my love, Cupid thought.
His love…yes. Nothing had ever felt more right.
Psyche didn’t know it yet, but she was inescapably his. And he was hers. Nobody, not even his mother, would lay a hand on her.
Cupid caught up to Psyche and her guards, flying above them as she moved quickly through the crowds, her head down, face and body hiding behind the large, loose shawl. When the guards moved closer, she waved a hand as if to keep them at bay. They arrived at the gated entrance of the royal living area, and Psyche paused to look upon the massive pile of items against the wall.
The god realized with a pang that these were the offerings his mother spoke about. Baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables. Bushels of wheat tied with twine. Shiny bits of jewelry and gems. Handwoven rugs of fine quality and color. Yes. Psyche deserved all of this and more. But to his amazement, she gave her head a sharp shake and barked something at the largest guard, who gave an order to a younger soldier before escorting the princess on while the younger guard began to gather the items. Cupid scowled when the guard momentarily touched her lower back. If he did that again, the god would snap the man’s fingers.
Glancing back, he saw that the younger soldier was not carrying the offerings through the palace gates. Instead, he headed down a smaller path toward the squat homes that leaned against one another, one sea storm away from toppling over.
Cupid’s heart constricted. His love was giving her gifts to the poor.
His mother’s information had been so very wrong. He wanted to pummel whoever had spoken ill of Psyche. She could do no wrong. Cupid would clear up this entire mess, and all would be well.
Once he saw her safely into her home, Cupid flew swiftly, crossing the layers of atmosphere between the realms that only gods could see, passing from Earth to Olympus. It took only seconds for his eyes and nose to adjust to the brighter colors and more vibrant scents. He flew straight to the seaside villa of Venus, surrounded by fields of flowers and covered in lush vines.
He was out of breath when he landed before his mother, but not because the trip had winded him.
Venus’s hand flew to her chest and she let out a startled laugh. “Son! Why do you look as if all the spirits of Hades have risen? Did you accomplish what you set out to do?”
“Listen.” He took his mother’s thin, but strong, shoulders in his hands. “We had it all wrong. Princess Psyche is not at fault. She has no interest in the offerings—”
“Cupid.” The goddess shrugged out of his grip, her face stern. “What in the name of Olympus has gotten into you? You are crazed! Is that sweat on your brow?”
“No, Mother, please.” He closed his eyes, grasping his hair, desperate to make her understand. “She is good. Her soul is…” He let out a deep sigh, remembering. “The most beautiful soul I have ever seen.”
When Cupid finally opened his eyes, his Mother was gaping at him as if looking upon a stranger. A particularly odd stranger. She shook her head slowly.
“Do you mean to tell me you did not do as I asked?
“Did you not hear me, Mother? Her soul—”
“I do not care. Her parents also had bright souls. Do you recall?”
Cupid shook his head. He had to make her understand. “Not like hers. Nothing like hers.”
Venus scoffed. “Her feeble soul will be sullied in the blink of an eye, Cupid. Do you deny she has been given offerings? That she is but a false god?”
“She does not accept their gifts. She gives them to the poor.”
“They are my offerings. They should not be going to any humans!”
The mother and son faced off, standing close, both speaking in raised voices.
“Then punish the people, not Psyche!”
Her voice lowered a dangerous notch. “How dare you question me? I will punish everyone on that forsaken island and their beloved princess.”
Cupid gripped his hands into fists. “I will not allow you to hurt her.”
A bubble of laughter rose up from Venus, but her face held no amusement. “Allow me? Are you hearing yourself?” The goddess’s hands lashed out and shackles appeared on her son’s wrists. Her hands flicked again, and he flew back, crashing into the wall, struggling to break the manacles.
“No!” Cupid rushed to his feet, only to be bound by the waist and ankles, yanked back and pinned against the wall by his mother’s immense power.
She glided forward, her face a mask of terrible anger. “Are you so weak as to fall for a pretty human face? Is that what this is?”
“I love her!” he shouted, panting for breaths.
Venus jerked as if struck, and for a moment her mouth hung open. Then her eyes darted to his bow and quiver, squinting.
“There is blood on your arrow.” Her eyes narrowed, and she began to shake as she stared. “Who did you strike?”
When his mouth clamped shut, she moved to him, crouching close and stroking his cheek with gentleness. “Cupid?” Venus cupped his chin. “You know you have my heart more than any ever has. There is nothing I would not do for you.”
He all but crumbled under her touch and kind words. All of the fire left his body and he slumped into her hand.
“Whose blood is on your arrow, son?”
Cupid swallowed hard. “My own.”
Time seemed to pass in slow motion as Venus processed this information. And this time when she began to laugh it was genuine, earnest humor. She kissed his cheek and rolled back on her haunches, laughing so hard she had to grip her stomach. Cupid glared at her misplaced hilarity. He had never seen his mother in the clutches of such merriment. He gritted his teeth, wishing it would pass.
“Are you quite finished?” he asked when she finally began to gasp and sit up, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Oh, Cupid. Darling.” She brushed his cheek again. “You know I cannot let you go until the effects have passed.”
Cupid frowned, yanking the chains. “Mother, no. I must go!”
All humor left Venus’s face. Her soft touch turned to the rake of a fingernail along his jawline.
“I know what is best for you. If my potion lasts three months on the average human, you should burn through it in a fraction of that time. Not to worry. I shall care for you until you are yourself again.”
“I have never been more myself!” He attempted to stand and failed. “Let me out of these!”