Psyche had broken the rules, ending their deal, but she said the words out loud just minutes afterward. Would his mother have mercy? Doubtful. But perhaps he could strike another deal!
“I will fix this,” he had promised Psyche, quickly leaving to catch his mother before she came to them. As long as he kept Venus away from Psyche, his wife would be safe. Nobody could pluck the goddess of love’s heartstrings quite like her son. He would fix this.
He knew the moment he touched down at his mother’s elaborate fountain that it was too late. Her chariot of precious gems and the rainbow-necked doves that pulled it were gone. Cupid had no doubt she had immediately left to claim her rightful win when she felt the pull of the broken binding.
The god of love cursed into the skies as he flew faster than his wings had ever moved, back to his palace. Why had he left Psyche there alone with no one to guard her? How could he have been so impulsive? Would his wife think quickly enough to hide herself? Not that the goddess would be outsmarted, but if she gave her the runabout until he could arrive…
He nearly tumbled to his knees as he burst through the bedroom window, righting himself and coming to a stop in front of Renae’s trembling form.
“Zep took her to the temple of Venus to beg mercy.”
“No…” His heart gave a great lurch. “Of all the places, Renae.”
“I didn’t know what else to do, Lord of Love!” She was still shouting her apologies as Cupid sped from the room, heading for Athens.
PSYCHE & CUPID
“When I was from Cupid’s passions free,
my Muse was mute and wrote no elegy.”
TEMPLE OF VENUS
Zephyr set me down with ease on a hill near the temple. I thanked him quickly and ran. It wasn’t until I was in the presence of other people, their eyes raking me, that I became aware of my hair, askew from sleep, and my white dressing gown. So many people! The presence of other humans after being alone for weeks was overwhelming. Add their stares and whispers as I pushed through them, terrified about what was to come, and every fiber of my being wished to run and hide. From the people, from the goddess, from everything.
But I had to be brave. Venus would not reward cowardice. I had nothing to hide. I loved her son dearly, truly, and I would make her see that. She was the goddess of love, after all. She, above all others, would feel the truth of what was between Cupid and me. Game be damned.
All around the temple were piles of offerings: bags of grains, tables laden with shining coins and jewelry, fine looking sheep and a goat. The bleating and neighs of animals rose up and joined with the mixed songs of birds and voices of people. My ears rang with the cacophony. I stepped through an arched opening where drying flowers hung upside down in bunches, their mild fragrances still lingering.
My heart rattled like a snake’s tail in a cage as I rushed down the narrow hall, entering into a room with an incredibly tall, domed ceiling of gilded bronze tiles. Thin lines of light spilled forth through slats in the marble walls, and my nose stung with the heady sharpness of burning incense. I ran forward through the gathered people to the steps of the altar, falling to my knees in front of a large statue of Venus. Her arms were outstretched, holding many doves, her face of perfect symmetry lifted.
When I opened my mouth to speak to her, an uncontrollable keening sound poured from my lips. Every sorrow, every regret, spilled from the depths of my soul. I didn’t care that I was frightening people, causing them to whisper and move away as if I were diseased. My eyes shut tight and my hands pressed the cool floor, head bowed. I could not have lifted my face if I’d wanted to. I had never felt so heavy.
“Oh, goddess,” I whispered. “I should have known the faithlessness of my isle. I should have been more aware. The blasphemies of my people are on my shoulders. I accepted the punishment. I married what I thought to be a monster. And my goddess, oh mother of love and beauty, I came to love your son having no idea who he was. I have never loved another, nor shall I ever. But I wronged him. My fears, and the worries of my unwise sisters who knew no better, bested me. Even as I broke the binding, I loved him. I should have told him! I was a fool! Oh, please forgive me. Please, goddess! I beseech you.”
The scratchy voice had me raising my chin enough to see the bare, wrinkled feet of an old woman in a worn-out wrap dress. My eyes drifted further up until our eyes met, and my breath halted. Those dark, sunken eyes gave her away. This was no mere, weak woman. This was a woman of power, and the energy she gave off was not gentle.
“Are you the seer?” I asked. “The one who spoke to my sisters?” The one who fed them lies? Anger gripped me in its burning hand.
“The very one,” she murmured, her dry lips lifting in a smile that hardened my innards. This woman worked for Venus. She had interfered on her behalf, hoping the fear instilled in the hearts of my sisters would somehow make it back to me. My heart ached knowing it had been my own error in judgment. I’d begged for them to come. He had been trying to please me.
“Everything is my fault,” I claimed.
“Indeed,” the woman agreed.
From down the long, narrow hall, my name was bellowed, causing the woman and I, along with every person in the temple, to turn. Was it him? My husband? Surely, he would not show himself to all these people! I leapt to my feet, trying to see over the crowd.
“Leave us!” the old woman shouted, her voice reverberating painfully around the room. When I turned to her, I saw that her eyes had taken on the milkiness of prophecy and power. The worshipers became a crush of voices and bodies, pressing out of the room. When they had all exited, a man pushed his way into the atrium, his dark eyes ablaze, and my heart became faint. I blinked.
His eyes roved over me, as if assuring himself I was okay, and then his attention turned to the old crone, who let out a dark laugh.
“It is too late,” she said. “You can see the manacles of De servo corrupto about her neck and wrists.” What? I glanced down and saw nothing. “I am her master now, and no immortal, even you, can hide her as a fugitive. I will have my way.”
I backed up, away from them both, confused and overwhelmed.
“Leodes?” I whispered. This time, when he looked at me his eyes penetrated my soul, causing the flaming of awareness of understanding to course through me like a blaze. “It’s you…”
“It is me,” he whispered.
No. I covered my mouth. Leodes had never been a mortal man, only a pretty illusion I had fallen for. Cupid, a form shifter. A god. But of course. My heart had been with him all along. That meant the old woman…
“Mother,” Cupid pleaded, turning his attention to her and verifying my suspicions.
In a flash of golden light that made me flinch, the crone turned into a woman so beautiful, it hurt to gaze upon her. Each time I tried to focus on her features, they shifted. All at once, she was fair and dark, her hair cascading like a shimmer of spices, feathery light and straight, then heavy with raven curls. She was all forms of beauty, from wispy to curvaceous, petite to tall. My human eyes could not comprehend.
“Oh, goddess!” I fell to my knees again.
When Cupid spoke this time, his voice was the melodious tones I had heard beneath the gruffness of my monster husband’s words. I tipped my face up to see he’d taken his true form as they faced off, each filled with unfathomable power, his wings spread about behind him, trembling with tension.
“Stop showing off and take a form,” Cupid commanded. “Have mercy on Psyche. She has admitted her love.”
I dared a glance to see the goddess take the form of a Greek woman, tall and imposing, with lustrous black hair and skin of smooth, light copper. “Her mockery of a declaration came too late, Cupid. She broke the binding agreement. Now she is mine.”
“You said there would be tasks,” he said, his mouth tight. “What are they?”
She smiled, and the room seemed to glow. “Each task will be revealed in time.” When her face turned down to examine me, I dropped my eyes. “I see she whored herself to you before affirming any sort of supposed love.”
To hear her description of our time together caused my heart to crumble in shame and hurt.
“You do not know what has happened between us,” Cupid said through clenched teeth. “Do not dare to insult her in such a way!”
“I know,” she drawled with a dark edge. “Because she carries your seed. No doubt to try and win my favor and pity, but it will not work. As far as I am concerned, the child is a bastard, no grandchild of mine.”
I clutched my lower belly, a tremor of surprise running through me. I was pregnant? When I peered up at Cupid, the way he looked at me with unreserved tenderness and helplessness made me cover my mouth again, holding back a deluge of emotion.
“Mother,” he whispered. The simple plea broke me. How could his mother deny him anything?
“No!” she snapped. “You have proven yourself to be foolhardy and soft! I am ashamed.”
Cupid rounded on her, making her step back with his ferocity. “Do not dare look down upon me for loving another. You, of all beings! You, with your infinite wisdom about love, and yet you have lost more lovers than any immortal.”