THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
By Phoebe "DragonWolf" Roberts

Movie magnate Paris Sheppard reclined in his wingback as he regarded the woman that sat across the desk from him.

She was beautiful in a way that only stars of her caliber ever were, a way beyond the scope of mere mortal women. Waves of rippling golden hair tumbled in a lustrous fall to her waist. The eyes that regarded him were as bright and brilliantly blue as the sky on a clear spring day. The lovely, delicate, perfect features likened to those of a goddess, supremely confident, effortlessly beautiful. She was Venus Cythera, one of the most famous actresses in the pantheon of Hollywood.

He knew immediately without having to ask why she had come. Paris was a busy man, but for Venus he was willing to make time.

Paris Sheppard, executive producer for the Iliad Films Production Company, had been hard at work on a project for quite some time. The idea had been pitched to him by a colleague of his by the name of Eris. He'd known Eris for a long time, from the very beginning of her career in the filmmaking business. Back then, she'd been trying to make it in the acting world, though Paris saw even then that she wasn't cut out for it. For years Eris had tried to establish herself in Hollywood, but the town demanded more than what she had. She was simply not beautiful enough, not talented enough, and not well-connected enough to make up for either— the sort that was never invited to the right parties. As an actress, as a star, she did not make it, and never could have. In the wake of her defeat she instead turned to producing, where she'd shown her true skill. She had risen in the industry so that she was now as wealthy and powerful as any actress, but still she resented that she could never measure up among them. Even now, so long after having become one of the most successful in the business, the old bitterness remained.

Paris had leaned back in his leather wingback chair behind his dark mahogany desk as he listened to her speak. She wove a spell with her words of an idea that had the potential to cause the greatest furor there had ever been in the entertainment world. She called her proposed film The Golden Apple.

There were channels in this town through which word spread lightning-quick. The moment, it seemed, that Iliad Films signed on to the project, there rose a riotous uproar. This was an industry in which rumors were the lifeblood, and Eris used this to her full advantage. She spread tales of her project cleverly, and soon everyone in the business was aflutter with speculation, especially as to the cast. The part of the lead called for an actress, but rumor had it that not just any would suffice. No, this role was only for the most talented, the most brilliant, the most beautiful, the best that could be found. Eris's film was engraved on every mind as only for the fairest.

For a title so lofty as this, the competition was fierce, and the feuds arising were bitter. Actresses were jealous creatures, and there was bad blood between many of them for one reason or another. The contention for this part only served to intensify hostilities already in existence. It infinitely amused Eris to see the exalted actresses, they who had succeeded where she failed, fighting one another like children over a sweet. Had she known when she pitched the idea what a bitter rivalry would spring up from the contest for this role? Paris did not doubt that she had. If he knew Eris at all, he knew she loved nothing more than sowing discord.

It seemed to Paris as if every actress ever on the screen had petitioned for the role. They had systematically eliminated the bulk of them, focusing only on the true luminaries, the ones worthy of the picture's prestige. At this stage of the game, the choice was among the very brightest there were. It had all come down to three— Juno Argos, Minerva Pallas, and Venus Cythera.

Some called them the three most brilliant stars in Hollywood, at the pantheon's peak. Juno was most famous for the power of the films she made, Minerva for choosing high-concept, intellectual pieces, and Venus for being the most beautiful part of beautiful movies. Each actress laid claim to this role, and only one would have it. As to which of them, the decision had been left to Paris's judgment. Either Juno, Minerva, or Venus.

It was this third, Venus, that now sat on the other side of Paris's desk. It was no insignificant thing that she had chosen to meet with him personally. She could have sent her agent to him, but she hadn't. She had come herself.

He rose to receive her as she entered his office, clasping her fair hands in welcome. She greeted him cordially, her manners perfect, her winsome blue eyes luminous. She favored him with a wide and dazzling smile. "It's good to see you again, Mr. Sheppard."

Businesslike, Paris cut through the pleasantries to the heart of the matter. "And you, Miss Cythera. What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to speak to you about The Golden Apple," she answered, as if he didn't already know, as if there could be any other reason. "You must know that I'm deeply interested in taking part in this."

"We're very aware, and pleased to know you'd like to be involved," Paris said graciously, waiting for her to continue.

"I'm sure we can come to an arrangement that would suit both of us. I'm willing to offer you something in return for your selection."

At that, Paris had to mask an expression of contempt. Did she think she was the first to try bartering with him for the part? That her rivals Juno and Minerva hadn't done the very same thing? She had to know such a strategy hardly placed her ahead of the competition.

"I've heard the same from other hopefuls," he said blandly, the understatement made clear by his tone, and was surprised to see not the slightest change in her demeanor. Quite the contrary, in fact; her confidence was almost a tangible force around her, all-encompassing and impenetrable.

"Perhaps," she conceded, daintily crossing her legs. In truth, she appeared as if she'd heard precisely what she expected. "But I can do something for you that they can't."

A measure of Paris's skepticism returned. Certainly Venus was a woman of great means, but to what could she have access that was unavailable to Juno and Minerva, who were stars just as much as she?

He rested his chin on his fist. "And what would that be, Miss Cythera?"

She smiled, and a touch of slyness crept into the expression of those brilliant blue eyes.

"I can get you Helen."

Paris stifled a gasp of surprise. No mention of a last name was necessary. There was only one person she could mean.

Helen Troy, the up-and-coming young starlet on a meteoric rise to fame. Her celebrity, her talent, and her beauty from such a young age were the talk of the country, and there couldn't be a soul alive that didn't know her face. Greek Life Magazine named her the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. She was scarcely twenty years old, and already one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. Every source agreed that Miss Troy was certainly the starlet to watch.

At the moment, Paris had particular reason to watch her. There had been a film in the works recently at Iliad, which Paris was producing; A Thousand Ships, it was called, and it had every indication of incredible success. If Paris knew movies— and certainly he did —this one promised to be a blockbuster. Everything was in order to commence. The script was edited to perfection, the budget was secure, and they had Achilles lined up to direct. All they yet needed was a lead, a young, crowd-pleasing female lead. For this project they had none of the casting difficulty they were experiencing with The Golden Apple; the studio wanted no one but Helen for this lead, and would not proceed until they got her.

But try as Paris might, it seemed that Helen refused to be gotten. She wouldn't consider his proposals, didn't even answer his calls. She had already entered into a contract with Lacedaemon Studios, Iliad's rival, and though Paris didn't know what they were, he knew Lacedeamon CEO Menelaus had big plans for the young star in such high demand. There was no way Menelaus would allow anyone else to get their hands on her.

So the movie remained in preproduction limbo, and it made Paris furious. The producer had a sensation on his hands, he knew it, and he would never be able to go through with it if he couldn't get a hold of Helen. The higher-ups at Iliad Films simply refused to launch the project without her. If Paris ever allowed himself to give outward sign of his distress, people might have said he was growing desperate.

But Paris was not a man accustomed to desperation. In the case of The Golden Apple, he had strictly maintained his position of power in all negotiations. He wanted to see what each of the actresses would offer the studio in return for their casting her. He had planned to play them against each other, driving each of them higher until he made the most advantageous deal possible. He would not have even considered one above the others before finding out exactly what he stood to gain. But at Venus's words, however, he tossed that strategy to the winds.

"I can get you Helen."

With practiced aplomb, Paris kept his reaction hidden. He affected an air of unconcern, but inwardly he was more than intrigued. The only apparent sign of his interest was the way he leaned forward slightly in his wingback chair.

He brought up his concerns rather than accept right off, hardly daring to hope. "She hasn't shown any interest in working with us before."

Venus's assurance did not waver in the slightest. "She will once I speak with her."

Paris thought of her commitment to Menelaus. "She's promised to Lacedaemon Studios."

She dismissed this unconcernedly with a wave of her hand. "That doesn't matter. I can get her out of it."

He regarded her, still with a touch of wariness in his gaze. "How?"

The woman smiled, a lovely, mysterious little smile. "Leave that part to me, Mr. Sheppard."

Paris leaned back in his chair again, lacing his fingers together as he considered. It seemed too good to be true. She could be putting him on, telling him what he wished to hear in order to secure the part— but nothing in her manner struck him as duplicitous. She gave all indication of perfect sincerity.

And if she did speak the truth… why, the situation would be ideal! He'd have perfect reason for the studio to choose their leading lady. They could finally begin filming on The Golden Apple. And they would be able to move forward with their other project as well. The higher-ups would need only to see Helen's face, and they would finally launch A Thousand Ships. All his stumbling blocks would be gone at a shot.

The possibility of repercussions occurred to him, but those he considered half a moment and dismissed. To secure Helen Troy by any means was worth it, whatever the consequences. And all he would have to do was give Venus what she wanted.

He glanced back at her. Tilting her head so that a ripple ran through her golden curls, she extended one delicate, long-fingered hand to him. "Do we have an agreement?"

Paris reached out and clasped it in a handshake to seal the deal.

"Venus," he smirked. "The Golden Apple is yours."

THE END