[Today for you, tomorrow for me]: 256.To the Fairest
flutter for dramatic effect as I come to stand in a pose of utter timidity. My head is lowered and my eyes
look upward at his face through down swept lashes. I raise my head a little to show him my pretty pout
as my eyes bear into his. I do my best to play the part of the confused victim.
“What Hera?!” He finally snaps at me. My lip quivers and tears spring into my eyes, but secretly, I smile inside. He is ill-tempered today. I know he will agree to almost anything to get rid of me.
“It’s your niece and your daughter,” I start, giving a slight, affected sigh. Before I can continue, his head snaps up in immediate defense of that wretched little Athena.
“Hera,” He warns, “I’m in no mood to deal with the foolish little contest between the three of you. I’m in even less of a mood to deal with your petty complaints of my daughter.”
I give a counterfeit whimper at this statement and turn from him with a flourish. Then, with all the years of theatrical experience I’ve acquired, I cry out, “How could you say such a thing?! And to your wife! How perfectly horrid!”
I hear him give a groan as he realizes the scene I could make in front of the whole entirety of Mount Olympus. He gives a frustrated growl and I hear him grumble something under his breath. I smirk because I know he’s caught right in the palm of my hand. I hunch over slightly and let out a quiet noise, much like a strangled sob, before beginning to hurry out of the room. I hear him hiss in panic and drop something, “Sake of the titans, woman! Where do you think you’re going?”
I give sniffle as I turn slowly and shuffle up to him, keeping my head bowed in mock diffidence. I sniffle again and raise my head sluggishly to look at him. I give him an accusatory glare as I tell him, “To someone who will listen to me! You wish to rid yourself of me, don‘t you?”
I hear him croak with annoyance and he sighs again. This is a subject I rarely pursue. I know his interest in me has dropped dramatically since he first took me as a wife. I could hardly expect more, as this is usually the case in most marriages and pairings, even in those made out of love. His tolerance with me seems to be slipping lately as well. There are some days I know he regrets choosing me instead of a more complacent, even-tempered bride. He doesn’t know how much this hurts me but I don’t think I’ll ever mention it to him. After all, love doesn’t come easy to a goddess, especially one such as I am. I see him start to rub his temples as he demands, “Can we discuss this later?”
I shake my head stubbornly. I never hesitate to take my happiness where I can find it. My lower lip protrudes slightly as I state quietly, “No, beloved, now is the time for discussion. Unless . . . You‘d like me to leave and find a more sympathetic ear elsewhere . . .”
“No!” He exclaims, panicked. He has never wished the rest of our cozy little family to know just how little he can control me. It “undermines his authority,” he says. He places a hand lightly on the small of my back, walking me to the large swinging double doors that lead out of his bedchamber. He offers his arm to me after he has gently steered me out of the room. “Listen, darling, I don’t have time for such things. Couldn’t you just talk to Eris about this whole thing? It’s likely the apple was addressed to no one. You know how she just adores to create disorder.”
I shake my head again, holding it high this time. I look him levelly in the eyes as I tell him, “No, that apple was addressed to one of us and unfortunately, we can’t agree on a judge. Both Aphrodite and Athena keep disqualifying my wise suggestions, even though I’ve existed for far longer than either of them.”
He groans and though I do not look at him I know he is rolling his eyes. We walk for sometime in silence as I let him think. Finally he stops and looks at me, saying, “I have a solution. I will choose a judge. Someone who has ties to none of you, or equal dedication. Someone who can tell you honestly who is the most beautiful.”
I give him a slightly hurt look and open my mouth but he foresees the mischief I am about to raise and assures me hastily, “Though, there is no doubt to me who is the fairest of all.”
I beam at him, as expected, ignoring all the implications of his statement. I shove my doubts that he has yet another lover away. I bow to him and begin to walk away backwards. I blow him a kiss and say with sincere, level tone, “Thank you, dearest. I just knew you could fix my little problem.”
When he is out of sight I turn and frown. Zeus, pick a judge? I briefly wonder if that could cause problems for me. For some reason, this was not what I had in mind. I have no doubts he will be true to his word. He will pick an impartial judge . . . But that doesn’t exactly mean much to me, I know my family. They are all underhanded. They are all sneaky. All of them can tip the scales in their favor if they can find a way and I know Zeus would jump at the chance to see his daughter outshine me. I click my tongue in annoyance, trying to think as I pace my courtyard. My bare feet slap out a gentle rhythm as they hit the stone floor and I sigh, more and more disliking the idea of Zeus picking the judge.
“Oh, what’s the matter Hera?” A voice jeers from behind me. I spin around to see Eris lying on the side of one of my many fountains. She is raised up on her elbows and looks completely at ease, in her element, so to speak. I wrinkle my nose at her smirk and the impish glimmer in her eye. She raises an eyebrow at me, the smug grin still on her face. After centuries I am almost used to her, almost. She stands out among us, the disgraced among the fortunate, the blinding brightness in a canvas of black, the grotesque among the beautiful. I have looked over every one of my relatives of varying closeness and I realize she one of the only ones here on Mount Olympus that could be considered unsightly. I don’t mind the painfully exaggerated features, the large, dull, prying eyes or the pockmarks. In fact, her ugliness is so immense it might even be considered attractive in some sort of way. However, I have yet to learn to tolerate her smile. That malicious smirk makes me shudder in revulsion every time I see it. I absolutely cannot stand to see her grin.
“What do you want, Eris?” I hiss, glaring at her.
“Oh . . . Only to bask in the glory of your humiliation.” She tells me with a laugh. I cringe at the sound, which is also hideous, as the rest of her is. I know she sees my cringe, but she continues anyway. “Then again, I can think of a few people around here who would like the very same thing.”
I narrow my eyes at her, much like a cat that has been cornered by a dog. I raise my hands to rub my temples as I feel a headache forming. I groan in frustration and the simple moroseness of a goddess who has had a very bad day. My lip curls back with contempt as I tell her sullenly, “Go away Eris, you’re difficult enough to tolerate when you’re not causing trouble.”
She smirks but inclines her head respectfully, “Yes, my queen. Whatever you command.”
I groan in frustration as she disappears. All I have managed to do with that little show of authority is possibly anger her further. I pace for some time before bumping into Dyke, another of my many stepchildren. I am not very annoyed, after all, out of all my many step children the one I dislike the least are The Hours -- Dyke and her sisters. Dyke is voicing her opinion on some matter very loudly at the other two Hours and her mother. All four of them seem to be following Hermes. Curiously, I poke my head around Dyke to see what Hermes has done now to cause such an uproar. I see he is carrying something large and I step up to him and, to my great outrage and annoyance, discover that he is carrying a fully unconscious mortal. As his eyes meet my angry gaze he drops the human, clearly startled and fearful of my wrath. He knows I can ruin him, if I like. Much is this way here on Olympus. Come to think of it, much is this way anywhere.
I look down at the human and then back up to Hermes, the disgust on my face marked clear and loud. I step in front of him and place my hands on my hips saying, in a tone much like a mother reprimanding a child, “Hermes! What are you doing?”
He bows his head, as is respectful, and says quickly, “Only what your husband has ordered, Milady!”
I blink in surprise and in an unusual show of crudity I let my mouth hang open in shock. Moments pass before I realize The Hours and their mother are staring at me. My mouth snaps shut as I will my mind to start working again. Zeus . . . Order a mere mortal to be thrust into the world I call home? Either Hermes was lying or Zeus had lost his mind. I shake myself. Zeus is a reasonable man. Instead I round on Hermes.
“Impossible! My husband would not order such a thing! He is . . . A man of reason Hermes! Why would he order such an absurd task? Clearly, you are lying.” I glare at him suspiciously and see him twitch nervously for a moment.
“Please, my queen, remember my vows!” The phrase is said with a note of hysteria and I frown at him, wondering what he means. I consider for a moment before I remember. Very long ago, when he had first promised himself to Zeus part of his vows had been never to lie to me or my husband. The vow was binding and I knew it. My frown deepens but I wave him off in a state of great vexation.
I go in search of Zeus, finding his daughter instead. I let out yet another groan. Today is not my best day, I note sullenly. She bows to me respectfully, “Good luck, stepmother. Not that you need it.”
She smiles at me and, inwardly, I cringe. As far as I am aware she was not born out of an affair on my beloved’s part, but I still do not like her. I have never liked any of Zeus’s children. I smile anyway, “And to you, little Athena. Though I am sure you or Aphrodite will win. I am far too old to be entering beauty contests.”
She shakes her head and retorts with the all-too-expect
“Oh, but it is true. I am not of your generation. It is kind of you to humor me though.” I see her slight smirk and shake my head. This, if for no other reason was why I cannot tolerate her. She is always thinking thoughts that are kept secret from me. Come to think of it, she is merely just always thinking thoughts. It makes me nervous. Shifting under her gaze I look for a way to quickly end the conversation and I remember Hermes and his mortal, “Have you seen your father? I have a few questions for him.”
“He is dinning, my queen.” She says, pointing in the direction she had come from. I nod and wave her off. She bows again and retreats in the opposite direction as I head to the dinning hall. I storm into the room in my usual fashion, eyes searching for my husband. I spot him at the end of the table.
“Love?” I inquire and he raises his head from his conversation with Iris, one of the only women with whom I would ever trust my husband. She is one of the most charming of us on Mount Olympus, but I know she would never betray me. She looks to me, asking silently if she should take her leave and I shake my head, this conversation would get out sooner or later. I’d rather have her tell the story than that vicious little gossip Aphrodite or, Cronus forbid, Boreas, the wicked north wind. Sadly, she is the only one that I could think to call my friend. She bows her head and rises from her seat to relinquish it to me. I shake my head again, coming to stand by Zeus. He gives me the customary wary look and I ask flatly, “Are you insane?”
I see Iris drop into her seat beside me, made aberrantly ungraceful by the shock of such a disrespectful question. Zeus also blinks in surprise but doesn’t reply.
“Well?” I demand impatiently after a few awkward moments of silence pass.
He blinks again and asks cautiously, “What exactly do you mean, Hera?”
“I would have thought the question to be a simple one,” I reply dryly. “I asked are you insane. I meant are you insane. Have you lost your mind? Has your sanity gone and run away with someone else’s, leaving you to mourn its loss?”
He glares at my sarcasm, “No, you will be happy to note that I am in full possession of my sanity. Though I’m not quite sure how that happened . . . Why do you ask?”
“I encountered your messenger not even ten minutes ago. He had, by the way, acquired a rather loud entourage.” I inform Zeus calmly. I see his eyebrows jump in surprise and he opens his mouth to say something but I continue, “Imagine my surprise when I notice the reason this loud, disruptive entourage has been following him is because he is carrying a hexed human!”
Iris falls out of her chair next to me, hastily getting up and asking incredulously, “What?”
Zeus shrugs under her gaze, “Hera wanted a judge for her contest, I found her one.”
I shrug at Iris, not knowing what to say. I am much comforted to know my beloved hasn’t lost his mind, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of a human in my domain. I steal a glance at Zeus, who shows no sign of panic that there is a mortal here on Olympus. I sigh slightly, deciding not to worry about it. After all, if he isn’t worried, why should I be? I sit down, deciding to have something to eat. I. As soon as I sit, my food appears in front of me. I eat slowly, happy to just take my time. While eating I see Zeus glance at me several times out of the corner of my eye. As I begin to finish my supper I start to wonder what the tiny looks Zeus has been shooting me mean. Has he gotten another woman pregnant? I try to shove the thought away as I feel my awesome jealousy begin to float to the surface, as is always inevitable. I look away from him as a blistering redness creeps its way up my face. What most do not understand of me is I am not proud of my possessive wrath concerning my husband. I deeply ashamed of the trials and agonies I have placed upon those who have caught my husband’s eye. So much so that, when reflecting on it, I find I could truly hate my husband, if I did not love him as I do. I think the mere knowledge that this is what he has driven me to over the years hurts more than all the rest of it combined. I could hate him, and yes, that fact hurts. To find that you could, and probably should, hate a loved one is painful to any creature, be it god, human, animal or monster. It is more tormenting, however to know that they are the cause. How many women and men have I tormented because of my husband’s faithlessness? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, neglecting to mention those that were hurt but not in my direct line of fire.
“My lady?” Iris asks, having laid her hand on mine some moments earlier. I look over to see her warm honey-golden eyes alight with concern. I try to smile but find the muscles in my face rather torpid and unwilling to cooperate. I am only able to manage a cheery grimace and I see her frown as she sees it. I shake my head, feeling tired and dizzy.
“I am fine, Iris,” I tell her with a sigh. I see Zeus is also looking at me with worry. I shrug slightly and stand, the urge to leave his sight coming upon me very suddenly. I leave the hall only to have Iris rush after me. She stops me by placing a small, questioning hand on my arm. I turn to see that her expression is still tight with anxiety over me, “My lady . . . Hera, you may be able to walk out of a hall and expect your husband not to follow you, but I am an entirely different matter. What’s wrong?”
“That’s just it Iris. You will follow me anywhere without hesitation. He won’t.” I sigh and gently remove my arm from her grasp. I give her a lopsided smile and say, “Go now. I don’t need to hear your worries in my head as well as my own.”
She looks hesitant for a moment but make an elegant, emphatic curtsy before murmuring, “I’ll just be in your rooms if you wish to see me.”
“Thank you, but . . .” I say and I give a shrug. She nods and retreats in the direction of my bedchamber. I wish to be alone. I have decided to go to Canathas, though it is still a bit early for this annual ritual of mine. It is just barely spring and the air still holds a bit of a chill, but since a judge has finally been chosen I might as well use my advantages as I know Athena and Aphrodite certainly will use theirs. Feeling slightly better, I head to the spring to the far east of Olympus. When I arrive I see the spring waits for me, completely serene, the surface as smooth as glass.
I kneel down by the clear, placid pool and feel the spongy, pliant vegetation bend beneath my weight to cradle me. I weave one hand through the cool water, sighing blissfully. The temperature is just right. I bring my hand up to my face and watch, fascinated as wrinkles evaporate with the moisture. All traces of age simply disappear into the air around me. I smile and undress quickly, leaving my clothing in a neat pile a few feet from the pool. I drop into the spring and duck under the surface for a few moments before lying back on the sandy bank. I close my eyes and relax, feeling a blissful, sleepy peace settle over me. This is the one place I know I will never be disturbed. Not even Zeus knows of Canathas. I’ve never had a desire to tell anyone of this place and it is doubtful that I ever will. I might eventually consider it; if I can ever find another place on Olympus I come to call my own. As I rise from the water I see that it has grown late. I notice that Artemis is hastily moving to take Apollo’s place as he retires his chariot. She is just barely visible on the horizon and I decide it is time to go home. First though, I dress and step up to the silver-framed mirror I placed in Canathas just as soon as I’d realized the function of the spring. I smile proudly at the object. It is like no other. This mirror, unlike every other, needs no light to show a reflection. Instead, it holds a light of its own. It had been a gift: a dual effort of Apollo and Artemis. My reflection, I notice as I stare into the mirror shining depths, is much younger and radiant that the one I had seen this morning in my bedchamber mirror. I smile and raise a hand to my noticeably smoother skin. I give myself a critical glance-over, beaming as I find no faults.
I return to my rooms and Iris gapes at me. For as long as I’ve know about the spring it has been this way. I sigh and send her to find Zeus, lying down on my bed and staring up at the stars. I see him enter the room unaccompanied and smile, grateful that there’s at least one person that knows me. I utter a gentle thanks to Iris, promising to show her my gratitude in person later and stand with my eyes on Zeus. I hear his breath leave him in an admiring hiss as he stares at me. I smile coyly at him. He stares in open adoration and all doubt and worry erodes away. My breath catches slightly as he steps forward and takes his rightful place next to me. I realize in a giddy state of euphoria that no one could ever deny me my place by his side. I am deeply beloved by Zeus, despite his infidelities. I need no golden apple to tell me this. I am the fairest and Eris be damned if she thinks otherwise!