39

THE CAST

Eros: Kenshin

Psyche: Kaoru

Aphrodite: Tomoe

Hephaistos: Akira

Zephyrus: Sanosuke

Zeus: Hiko

Demeter: Tae

Amphitrite: Misao

Poseidon: Aoshi

Admetus (invisible attendant): Yahiko

Alcestis (invisible attendant): Tsubame

Persephone: Tokio

Hades: Saitou

Chloris: Megumi

Ares: Enishi

Hera: Yumi

All other characters are of my own creating, except for their names, which are mostly plucked from Greek myths.

Another chapter. Whew! I'm getting a nasty feeling that this is going to be an epic in the truest sense of the word. I originally intended it to only be a few chapters long. Oh well…

Thank you, once again, to all the lovely people who reviewed Chapter 3, as well as the people who continue to support this story, years on.

I have re-posted this sanitised version of Chapter 4, with the explicit sex scene cut out. If you would like to read the unedited version of this chapter, please visit my profile page and follow the links under my "updates" section to my Live Journal.

Many thanks to my beta reader Ice-Cool, who ruthlessly picks holes in all my plotlines. Where would I be without you? Thanks are also due to Ravyn, Dragonsdaughter and Jane Drew, who were of immense help regarding plot discussions and feedback.

WARNINGS: Still rated M for incest, lime and other adult themes in this chapter. Be warned!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin and its characters, nor do I own the original story of Cupid and Psyche, the Greek Gods, or the myths that come with them. I also do not own any part of The Odyssey by Homer.

CHAPTER FOUR

Eros glared venomously at Apollo, who was doing a truly admirable job of ignoring him.

"You snake!" he spat, blazing amber eyes narrowed in anger. "How could you make such an ominous proclamation? She will be absolutely terrified now! Look what you did to her!" He flung a hand in Psyche's general direction. "She's fainted! Fainted! Obviously, all you care about is your dramatics, but that woman is going to be my wife! She deserves more respect from the likes of you!" Eros was furious. He realised now that this was Apollo's way of informing him that he knew it was Eros that had been responsible for his humiliation with Daphne. Apollo rarely engaged himself in direct confrontations, choosing instead to make his point by quietly getting even. This proclamation was Apollo's method of settling the score.

Apollo had summoned Eros earlier that day with the offer of accompanying him while he paid a visit to the Ithacan royal house. His intention had been to deliver his priestess' proclamation personally. Eros had asked him why he was troubling himself to go all the way to Ithaca for such a minor matter and Apollo had smiled his most enigmatic smile and told him that he had a special interest in the whole affair. So, Apollo and Eros had caught up with Ithaca's messenger on the road to the palace and had followed him, unseen by mortal eyes, into the main hall.

Eros had watched with mild interest as Apollo took possession of the messenger, not in the least surprised that it only took the people gathered around him a few moments to notice that the boy was being overshadowed. A God or Goddess tended to pass on certain distinctive traits to the mortals they possessed and in Apollo's case, it was his unmistakeable voice that always gave him away.

Eros had smiled to himself as Apollo began to speak, watching the mortals freeze in awe. But that smile had soon turned into a dark frown when he realised exactly what Apollo was actually saying. His heart had stopped when he saw Psyche collapse in the doorway of the hall. He hadn't even realised she was there, hiding in a darkened recess on the other side of the large doorway. He had only just stopped himself in time from dashing to her side to check that she was all right. He watched now, as the King gathered her up in his arms, with the Queen and a flock of servants hovering around him. He wanted nothing more than to appear in front of the entire gathering and take Psyche into his own arms, but his desire to protect both Psyche and himself from the wrath of his mother was much stronger. However, that did not lessen his anger.

Apollo sighed in annoyance, only half listening to Eros' tirade. Possessing that messenger boy, although only for a few moments, had tired him a little. He generally preferred to not overshadow mortals, which was why he sent his visions to the Delphian priestesses in the form of vapours from a fissure in the ground that they inhaled.

"Eros," he snapped, interrupting the younger God mid-rant. "Am I correct in assuming that your ultimate objective is to protect Psyche, her family and yourself from repercussions of you not carrying out the task Aphrodite entrusted you with?"

"Yes," Eros answered through clenched teeth. "You already know that, Apollo."

"So, would I also be correct in assuming that a proclamation announcing that Eros, the God of passion, has fallen in love with Psyche and intends to marry her would be somewhat at odds with this objective?" Apollo fixed Eros with his sternest gaze. The red-head was being utterly childish. He conceded to himself that he had used the proclamation to achieve revenge against Eros for his earlier mischief, however, that had not been his sole motivation. It was more a case of killing two birds with one stone. But, there was no possible way he would ever reveal that to his cousin.

Eros returned Apollo's gimlet-eyed stare with a filthy look of his own. What the Archer had said was perfectly true and logical, which served only to incense him further. Eros knew that Apollo intended the proclamation to be shocking enough that it would serve to deflect Aphrodite's ire, but he also knew that he had conveniently taken the opportunity to humiliate him once again. How dare that coward use something so important to get revenge!

"The… substance of your little speech," he ground out, fighting to get his temper back under control, "Was crafted in a manner that dealt unnecessary damage to Psyche and her family. If our best interests were what you truly had in mind, you would have chosen more diplomatic words."

Apollo smiled tightly. "You need to learn how to choose your battles, cousin," he replied. "It would most definitely not be in your 'best interests' to fall out of my favour at such a delicate time. You would do well to remember the amount of influence I hold in matters of… information."

"You wouldn't!" Eros was aghast. The very thought of his mother finding out about this was enough to make his stomach drop. The very thought of Apollo possessing such material to threaten him with made bile rise in his throat. So, overall, the God of passion was not feeling in the best of health at that particular point in time.

Apollo's smile turned nasty. "I would, so just watch your mouth Eros."

"I'm sorry I ever asked for your help," Eros muttered, furious but not quite foolish enough to continue the argument.

"You should be thinking about the ways in which you are able to protect Psyche and her family," Apollo told him. "Relying solely on others to do it for you would be a most fatal error. The words of the proclamation were necessary and I am sure that in time you will come to be of the same mind. So, perhaps you should also be thinking about the methods you could employ to remedy the 'damage' that you are so concerned about."

Eros folded his arms, feeling most unpleasantly like a chastised child. He stared sullenly as Psyche's father carried her out of the hall and in the direction of her apartments. Sifting through the crowd with observant violet eyes, Eros suddenly saw a face that he recognised. It was that attendant he had seen the last time he had paid a visit to the Ithacan royal household. What had her name been? Malva? No, that wasn't it. Malinda? No, it was a shorter name than that… Maia! That was the woman's name, he was sure of it. Now, he clearly remembered Psyche's beautiful voice saying the name aloud.

This Maia must be Psyche's personal attendant, he mused as he watched the woman accept some cloth and a bowl of water from another servant before following the King and Queen at a respectful distance. As he observed this, Apollo's earlier words and actions suddenly inspired Eros with a brilliant idea. He had watched Apollo overshadow that messenger boy like it had been nothing. Surely he could do the same with Maia? Yes, he would take control of the woman's body and use her influence to soothe Psyche's fear when she woke up.

Eros had never possessed a human before, but he didn't believe that it would be very difficult. After all, the other Gods and Goddesses did the same thing quite regularly, sometimes even for fun. His mind made up, he turned back to his companion.

"I think I know what you mean, cousin," Eros said with a small smile before stealing after Maia. Apollo was left staring after him, a vaguely pleased look adorning his golden features.

Perhaps the boy is not completely hopeless after all, he thought to himself. Still, the fact that I had to prod him into action with inflammatory words tells me that he still has much to learn.

II

When Psyche opened her eyes, she saw the worried faces of Maia, her mother and her father all staring down at her. Oh no. She had done the unthinkable. She had fainted in front of the entire household. How utterly humiliating.

She blinked owlishly a few times, attempting to gauge how she was feeling. The awful twisting, burning sensation in her stomach was still there, but less intense. The dizziness had faded, but Psyche wasn't sure what would happen when she sat up, so she decided to lie still for the time being. She stared blankly at the ceiling for a little while and was relieved to discover that she recognised the textured white paint as the same unique shade that covered the roof of her apartments. So, she had been moved to her room. She wondered who had carried her and concluded that it must have been her father. He was loath to let any other man touch her.

Although, Psyche thought bitterly, none of that really mattered now did it? The proclamation had made it perfectly clear that her personal honour and purity would ultimately amount to nothing. She screwed her eyes shut, trying to block out the sick feeling of fear that threatened to overwhelm her again.

"My lady?" Maia's voice was a mix of anxiety and hesitation. Maia must be terribly worried about me, Psyche told herself. I should really open my eyes and tell her that I am all right. But, however much she tried, Psyche couldn't seem to force her eyes open, because in truth, she wasn't all right at all.

Maia was one of the most senior and respected female servants in the royal household. She had been in the service of the royal family since she had been sold to Psyche's grandfather as a young girl. Psyche's grandfather and grandmother had long since made the journey across the River Styx, which would place Maia somewhere between fifty and fifty five summers. Days of birth held little consequence for most Greeks, especially servants, so age was generally estimated rather than known for certain.

Maia had also cared for Psyche personally since the day she had been born and, over the years, the Ithacan princess had come to see the woman as a surrogate mother of sorts. While Psyche had never felt that anyone around her truly understood her feelings, Maia was the person who came the closest. She had been Psyche's main source of company as she grew up, since Psyche's appearance had caused the princess to become somewhat of a recluse. Maia had helped Psyche cope with her anxiety and embarrassment at being an object of such widespread attention by taking her away from everyone else and telling her hundreds of stories and myths to pass the time and to distract her from her unhappiness. It was Maia's influence that had cultivated Psyche's great love of stories and mythology. The woman seemed to possess a never-ending supply of these stories and Psyche had memorised each and every one she had ever been told, taking the characters and the morals to heart and re-telling the stories to herself when she felt lonely or unhappy. Psyche had numerous memories from her childhood of sitting on Maia's lap, tugging at her chiton and begging to hear the story of Theseus, or Perseus, or Heracles, just one more time.

As well as sharing the richness of folklore with her young charge, Maia had also tried to instil in Psyche vital qualities that would help to shape her into a woman worthy of only the best life had to offer. The most important virtues Maia had taught her were piety, compassion and courage. Psyche had lived her life so far by adhering to those virtues with almost obsessive vigilance.

But, the one thing that Maia had always told Psyche more than anything else was that she should never show people that she was afraid. Fear was a weakness that royalty could not afford. Reluctantly, Psyche opened her eyes and gave her handmaiden a tremulous smile.

"Are you all right?" This time, it was the King who spoke. He knelt by Psyche's bedside and clasped her small white hand gently between his two larger ones. "We were so worried when you fainted down in the hall. We thought you had taken ill. You are still very pale, daughter. Should we send for a healer?"

"No Father," Psyche answered quietly, keeping her movements delicate and minimal as she sat up and faced him. Thankfully, the dizziness and nausea were not quite as bad as they had been before. "I just received a shock upon hearing the words of the Oracle. I feel much recovered now. I apologise for causing such a scene."

"It's all right." Psyche turned her gaze away from her father to look at the deeply troubled face of her mother. "I realise those tidings from Delphi must have been horrible for you to hear. Your father and I had half hoped that you would stay in your apartment and we would talk to you about them later, in private."

Psyche favoured her mother with a sardonic smile. "I couldn't help being curious," she told her. "After all, the proclamation concerned my future."

The Queen smiled back grimly and reached out to smooth Psyche's hair back from her forehead. "I understand," she said. "I probably would have done the same thing myself. The question is: what will we do now?"

"Your Majesty, I really think that the Princess should be allowed to rest," Maia intervened gently. "Perhaps if everybody has some time to calm down and think things over, a solution will present itself."

The King and Queen looked at Maia contemplatively for a few seconds and then nodded their heads in assent.

"When you feel better, why don't you come down and see us?" Psyche's mother told her. "Then we'll talk about a plan of action."

Psyche just nodded and smiled weakly. The very mention of talking about 'a plan of action' set her fragile stomach churning all over again.

When her parents had left the room, Psyche turned to face Maia with an anguished expression on her face. The handmaiden said nothing, simply moving forward and enveloping her in a comforting hug. To her utter mortification, within a few moments, Psyche found herself sobbing into Maia's robes. She desperately tried to stop crying, but it was no use. All she managed to do was make ugly, jagged, moaning noises with each intake of breath.

"Hush my lady, it will be all right," Eros soothed in Maia's voice, rubbing circles on Psyche's back. The sound of her tears made his heart twist painfully. The urge to comfort her and stop her from crying was flooding his entire being.

"No it won't!" Psyche burst out, her voice a plaintive wail. "You heard what the Oracle said! I am destined to be given to a monster! He will surely kill me upon sight and devour my body!" She gripped the fabric of Maia's clothing in her hands and buried her face deeper in Maia's shoulder, her sobs intensifying. "I'm so afraid Maia. I know that I mustn't be afraid, but I am."

Eros sighed, squashing his mild indignation at being called a monster in favour of his concern about this woman who had captivated him so. He sat down next to Psyche on the bed and tugged her towards him until the girl was lying back down on her side with her head resting in his lap. He laced the fingers of one hand with Psyche's own and used the other to stroke the princess' long black hair. Eventually, Psyche relaxed against him, curling up so that her knees were drawn against her chest and her free hand was resting on his knee. Her sobs receded until she was simply breathing deeply, obviously trying to calm herself down.

The feeling of her holding his hand and lying against him while he stroked her hair was incredible. He knew that he wasn't supposed to be here, that it was a stolen moment, since he was wearing the body of her attendant as a disguise. That knowledge still didn't stop the intense feelings that were currently blooming in his chest. He primarily felt a sort of awe at the fact that mortals were so emotional and so trusting, mixed with a large amount of appreciation of Psyche's lovely body, pressed along the length of his leg. At the same time, Eros also felt an all-consuming, burning desire to protect Psyche from all causes of harm. He knew without a doubt that, right now, he would happily kill anyone or anything that ever tried to hurt this woman, his woman. On top of all that was the knowledge that Psyche would be lying with him like this willingly, without him having to use another body as a disguise, in the not too distant future. He supposed that all of the feelings combined constituted love, or at least the beginnings of it. He was a little bit nervous that a mortal woman was having such a huge effect on him, but at the same time, he didn't care as long as she would be his in the end.

"I know the proclamation sounded bad, but you shouldn't give up hope," he told Psyche gently. "It's likely that the situation isn't as bad as the Oracle is making it out to be." Psyche sniffled and shifted uncomfortably in his loose embrace and Eros silently resolved to himself to get even with Apollo in the most violent manner possible. It didn't matter that Apollo was trying to protect them; he had caused his future wife no small amount of distress and that required atonement.

"I would like to think that you are right, but I doubt that you are," Psyche answered softly after a long silence. "I know that I am being punished for offending Aphrodite and it is something that I need to come to terms with."

Eros felt a surge of dark resentment towards his mother for causing Psyche this undeserved grief.

"Aphrodite is a malicious and vain woman who is overly possessive of her beauty," Eros told her, his contempt lacing Maia's voice as it left her mouth. "Be assured that you are innocent and undeserving of her vindictive jealousy."

All of a sudden, he was practically nose to nose with Psyche, her luminous blue eyes wide and scared.

"Maia, you mustn't talk like that!" she whispered desperately. "That is a truly wicked and impious thing to be saying about the Goddess! I don't mind paying the price for Ithaca's foolishness but I couldn't bear it if you were to be punished as well!"

Utterly smitten by both her selflessness and her piety, Eros reached out and cupped her cheek gently with Maia's hand.

"Don't worry about me my lady," he assured her. "I promise you that nothing ill will come from my words." He leaned forward slightly and kissed her on the forehead, resisting the temptation to kiss her on the mouth. "Lie down now," he ordered, giving Psyche a gentle nudge. "It's time for you to get some rest." As the girl obediently crawled up the bed and settled amongst the pillows, Eros knelt on the floor beside the bed so that he was at eye level with her.

"Promise me that no matter what happens, you will never show them your fear." Psyche nodded, knowing that it was her duty to accept her punishment with grace and honour.

"Even if it is my fate to die a horrible death, I promise that I will make my family proud," Psyche answered, fierce determination igniting her gaze like blue fire. "I will hold my head high and do what I must to protect the royal family and the Ithacan people. As long as their eyes are upon me, I will not be afraid."

"Good," Eros said, feeling extremely pleased that the girl seemed to have a backbone.

"Maia?"

"Yes, my lady?"

"Do you remember the story of Oedipus?"

Eros certainly knew the story. He had been there for certain parts of it, using his gold tipped arrows to make sure everything came to pass as Apollo had proclaimed. What a truly convoluted and messy affair it had been. "Yes my lady, I remember."

"Will you tell it to me again as I go to sleep?"

Eros looked down in surprise and met deep blue eyes that seemed resolute, but vulnerable and drained at the same time. "Please?" she beseeched him in a soft voice. "You can sit on the bed again while you tell me."

How could he say no when she used such a persuasive tone and an invitation into her bed? Who was he fooling, everything about this girl was persuasive.

"All right." Eros rose and sat down on the bed once more, not missing the small, pleased smile on Psyche's face as she shifted on the bed to make room for him.

"Once there was a King that ruled over the land of Thebes," Eros began, Maia's voice taking on a smoother, more liquid quality as it eased into the monologue. "His name was Laius and he was descended from Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. One day, whilst attending the court of Pelops in Asia Minor as a guest, Laius took advantage of Pelops' young son Chrysippus."

"Really?" Psyche interrupted. "You've never told me that part of the story before, Maia! What do you mean, 'took advantage'?"

"Oh?" Eros froze, at a complete loss as to what to say. He should have known that the attendant would be far too proper to talk about sex with the virgin princess. Well, there was no hope for it, better to continue than to try and cover up what had already been said.

"Ah, I mean that Laius made love to Chrysippus… without his permission." Eros answered finally, glancing sideways at Psyche to see what her reaction would be. He was amused and slightly aroused at the soft pink flush rising on her cheeks and neck.

"I… I see," Psyche stammered. For some strange reason, Maia's words had caused her to remember the experience she'd had on Poseidon's feast day, when she'd woken up with those intense feelings rippling through her body. Even now, at the thought of those sensations, Psyche could feel her cheeks heating up and a tightening between her legs in response.

Shifting uncomfortably in an effort to ignore the unsettling feeling, Psyche focussed her attention on her handmaiden once again. "What happened to Chrysippus… afterwards?" she asked, taking care to keep her voice casual.

"Oh, Chrysippus hung himself in shame," Maia replied as if it was a completely logical answer. "So, Pelops pronounced a curse on the royal house of Thebes in retaliation."

"So that's how it started."

"Yes, my lady. After this had happened, Laius returned to Thebes and took a woman named Jocasta as his Queen. Jocasta did not bear him any children, which caused him to send a messenger to the Delphian Oracle. The Oracle told him that if Jocasta ever bore Laius a son, that son would end up killing him."

"That must have made Laius and Jocasta very sad," Psyche murmured. "They would never be able to have a family."

"Yes. So, Laius and Jocasta abandoned the marriage bed in order to prevent Jocasta from getting with child. But one night, Laius became heady on wine and lay with Jocasta, conceiving a child."

"Jocasta should have refused him," Psyche said firmly. Eros suppressed a smile. He was sure that by the time he had finished memorising every inch of Psyche's body, she would be unable to refuse him, ever.

"When the child was eventually born, it turned out to be a son. Laius and Jocasta decided that, in order to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass, the child should be killed. So, Laius had a shepherd pierce the child's ankles with a metal spike and take him to the mountainside of Cithaeron outside Thebes to be exposed."

"Why did they pierce the baby's ankles?"

"Well, it was intended both to hasten the child's death and also to prevent his ghost from walking freely," Eros answered. When Psyche indicated that he should go on with a solemn nod, Eros continued the story.

"Unfortunately for Laius and Jocasta, their servant felt sorry for the baby and gave him to a passing shepherd. This shepherd bore him away to Corinth, where he was taken in by King Polybus and Queen Merope, who had no children of their own. They named him Oedipus."

"Swell-foot," Psyche said quietly.

"Yes. As Oedipus grew up, he was taunted by the other children, who told him that he wasn't Polybus' true son. When he reached the age of manhood, Oedipus travelled to Delphi to ask the Oracle about his parentage. The Oracle told him that he was destined to murder his father and marry his mother."

"Poor Oedipus. He must have been devastated when he heard that."

"So, Oedipus, wrongly believing that he was born in Corinth, decided to journey north in order to protect Polybus and Merope. As he was heading in the direction of Thebes, he came across Laius and his party travelling in the opposite direction, who were incidentally on their way to the Oracle in Delphi."

"Because of the Sphinx?" Psyche asked.

"Yes, there was a monster known as the Sphinx terrorising the Theban countryside, with the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. She would ask each passer-by a complex riddle and if they answered incorrectly, she would devour them. But, we should get back to Oedipus. The young man refused to stand aside for Laius' chariot, unaware that he was royalty and annoyed by the man's arrogant manner. When Laius' charioteer deliberately ran over Oedipus' foot, a fight ensued where Oedipus killed every man in Laius' party, save for one who managed to escape."

"I always wondered how he managed to do that," Psyche murmured.

"Oedipus continued on towards Thebes. He heard a rumour along the way that Creon, the regent of Thebes, had promised the city's throne and the hand of Queen Jocasta to whomever was able to get rid of the Sphinx and decided to try his luck. He eventually encountered the Sphinx, who asked him the following riddle: what creature stands on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three in the evening?"

"Man!" Psyche answered immediately in a triumphant voice.

Eros smiled to himself. He was actually quite enjoying himself and it appeared that Psyche enjoyed hearing stories. He committed that piece of information to memory.

"Very good my lady, that is exactly what Oedipus told the Sphinx. He said that man crawled on all fours as a baby, walked on two legs in his prime and leant on a stick in his old age. The Sphinx, enraged at finally being outwitted, threw herself off her cliff and into a deep chasm, where she died."

"What happened then?"

"Oedipus arrived in Thebes, where he was married to Jocasta and given the throne. Jocasta bore Oedipus two sons, named Polynices and Eteocles and two daughters, named Antigone and Ismene. They all lived happily together for a while, but then a terrible plague settled upon Thebes and Oedipus sent Creon, Jocasta's brother, to the Delphian Oracle to see if there was anything to be done. The Oracle commanded Oedipus to drive the murderer of Laius out of Thebes."

"Oh dear," Psyche interrupted. "This is where things begin to unravel."

"Indeed, my lady. The great Seer Tiresias came to Thebes and told Oedipus that he was the murderer, which the King refused to believe. Eventually, Oedipus' quest to find Laius' murderer turned into a quest to discover his true parentage. This dismayed Jocasta no end, because she realised the truth long before he did. She had told him the details of the prophecy placed on her son in an effort to reassure him that prophet's words held no truth. Frightened by this, Oedipus had extracted a description of Laius from Jocasta, as well as the name of the place where he had been supposedly struck down. The only reason Jocasta had known was because of the one servant that had escaped during Oedipus' fight with Laius. He had told her everything and, once seeing Oedipus on the throne, had begged Jocasta to send him away from the city."

"He should have said something," Psyche muttered.

"As Oedipus was beginning to piece things together, coming closer to the horrible truth, a messenger arrived from Corinth, informing Oedipus that Polybus had died," Eros continued. "It was this messenger who confirmed that Oedipus was not related to Polybus or Merope by blood, as the messenger was also the shepherd who had found him as a baby on Mount Cithaeron and taken him to Corinth. The messenger indicated Oedipus' ankles and told him that they had been pinned together when he had been found. He told Oedipus that if wished to know who had pinned them together, he would have to find the man who had dubbed himself 'a servant of Laius'. Jocasta, knowing what was about to happen, begged her husband to stop his quest for answers, but Oedipus would not listen, wanting too much to solve the mystery of his birth. Jocasta fled and Oedipus summoned the servant, who turned out to be that one surviving man from Laius' party. When the terrible truth was revealed, Oedipus ran blindly through the palace and eventually found Jocasta, who had hung herself above the royal bed. He cut her down, took the brooches from her robes and used them to gouge out his own eyes."

"That's so awful!" Psyche gasped. "No matter how many times I hear the story, I'm always so horrified when I hear that part."

"Oedipus begged Creon to exile him from Thebes, to bury Jocasta and to take the throne. He wandered for many years with his daughter Antigone as his guide, until he found spiritual peace in a sacred grove at Colonus, outside Athens. He died there and his bones served to save the Athenians from any future attacks from the Thebans. That, my lady, is the story of Oedipus."

"And?" Psyche asked in a sleepy, utterly endearing voice.

"And what?" Eros replied, momentarily confused.

Psyche chuckled softly. "Maia, this is the part when you ask me what the moral of the story is! Don't tell me you're forgetting things in your old age!"

Eros, feeling a bit miffed, obediently asked "What is the moral of the story, my lady?"

"The moral of the story is that no man can escape his destiny and no man can prevent the words of the Oracle from coming to light," Psyche answered immediately. Eros' chest tightened as he suddenly realised exactly why she had wanted to hear the story. It seemed she was a lot stronger than he had given her credit for. "The words of the Oracle are sacred and must be accepted as inescapable truths," Psyche continued. She glanced at Eros, a bittersweet smile curving her full mouth. "Thank you, Maia," she whispered. Getting the impression that the girl wanted to sleep now, Eros rose and stood by the side of the bed, preparing to leave.

"I will see you again soon, my lady Psyche."

"Yes," Psyche answered sleepily, closing her eyes. "I'll see you when I wake up."

That wasn't quite what I meant, my sweet, Eros thought to himself as he left Psyche's room. He smiled wickedly as he thought of all the truly sinful things he was going to do to her once he had her safely tucked away in his palace in the clouds. He would make sure she never experienced fear ever again.

Concentrating for a few seconds, he stepped out of Maia's body, making sure to leave the memory of his conversation with Psyche lingering in her mind, so that she would not cause anyone to suspect that she had been overshadowed. Deciding to be particularly cautious, he planted some suggestions into the handmaiden's mind, about how she wasn't feeling well and was acting a little out of character. That way she would think that the foggy patch in her memory would be attributable to her feeling out of sorts.

Eros had never overshadowed a human before, so there was nothing that would indicate to anyone that it had been him, but still, it was better to be safe than sorry. He didn't want any unnecessary attention being focussed on him at such a pivotal time.

He smirked as he watched the handmaiden continue to walk down the passageway with a slightly dazed expression on her face.

Not long now Psyche, soon you will be mine.

III

"Why are you all so desperately sad?" Psyche interrupted calmly. The people around her fell silent and the princess suddenly found herself to be the focus of many pairs of incredulous eyes. She supposed that she shouldn't be surprised by this, since she had always made a point of not speaking in front of large crowds of people. It created such a stir of unwanted attention.

"What do you mean, my lady?" Maia asked after a brief silence. She glanced at Psyche's mother and father, who were surveying their daughter with surprise and trepidation. "Of course we are sad! Why wouldn't we be? The King and Queen, along with the whole of the Ithacan royal house, are mourning the cruel fate which has been thrust upon you so unjustly by the Gods."

Psyche shook her head in silent admonishment of her handmaiden's words. How could people think that this 'fate' of hers was unjust and undeserved? Did they not realise that it was their fault that she was in this situation? A sudden, acidic wave of resentment rose up inside Psyche and she began to speak before she realised what she was saying. "Why do you lament me now?" she asked, aiming her question at the entire group around her. "You should have all grieved for me when people showered such undeserved honours upon me! What do you believe it was that caused me to earn this punishment?"

Psyche snapped her mouth shut, aware that her voice was beginning to rise in volume. She had always known that she possessed a somewhat explosive temper, not unlike Phaedra's, but she had successfully kept it under control for the majority of her life. She projected an image of gentleness and serenity, which she had most likely just damaged with her little outburst, if the shocked expressions on the servant's faces said anything.

Her mother and father had called a meeting of the entire household once Psyche had risen from her rest. They were all assembled in the main hall, everybody talking loudly, trying to figure out some way to cheat Psyche's destiny. Psyche knew that there was no possible way of escaping what the Oracle had proclaimed and Maia's earlier words only seemed to strengthen her resolve. The rapid babbling of the people around her struck her as cowardly and desperate. Psyche was determined to show the entire gathering that she possessed courage and honour and would not let fear for her own safety impact upon the household.

"My daughter, you must let us grieve for you in the only way we can," Psyche's father told her quietly, his voice slicing through the silence like a sword. "It gives the people comfort to talk of possible ways in which to rescue you from your demise."

"Well, the people should have thought of 'rescuing me from my demise' when they proclaimed me far and wide with one voice to be an equal to Aphrodite," Psyche answered him in ringing tones. "I now perceive that I am a victim to that voice and that name. I submit to my fate and I will not cower from it and bring shame on my family. I say, lead me to that mountain to which my unhappy fate has destined me."

"Surely you cannot mean that!" Psyche's mother gasped, a hand clutched over her heart.

"I mean it will all my heart, Mother," Psyche assured her. "If this is what the Gods have chosen for me, it is what must be and nothing else. I will accept my punishment and restore favour to the royal house."

"Are you sure that this is what you want?" Psyche's father asked gravely. "We all know well that we cannot hope to avoid the words of the Oracle, but I cannot bear to send you to your death like this."

"I am not afraid to die," Psyche lied. She told herself silently, over and over, that she was protecting her family and doing what was right. The sooner she submitted, the sooner her family would be safe. They were all she had and it was her duty to protect them. "I beseech you Father," she continued, "we should waste no time. We must leave tomorrow morning."

The King stared down at his clasped hands for a long time. When he finally raised his eyes to meet Psyche's they were tired and defeated. It was as though he had aged many years in a few moments.

"As you wish, my daughter," he said in broken tones. "We will make the journey to the top of the mountain before sunrise tomorrow morning."

IV

They were gone. They were really gone. They had left her here to face her fate all alone. Of course, Psyche had vehemently insisted that she be left completely alone at the top of the mountain for the reason that she didn't want her family being injured when the monster eventually came to devour her. But truthfully, the princess was desperately afraid and wished more than anything that there was someone here with her. It didn't particularly matter who it was that was with her, just so long as there was another person present to quieten the frenzied, shrieking voices inside her head that were telling her to run away as fast as she could. Only her pride and the knowledge that she could not escape the words of the Oracle kept her feet still.

There had been a large procession in Psyche's honour that morning. The Ithacan royal household had attended in its entirety, as well as the majority of the people in the surrounding lands. The procession itself had more resembled an ekphora, or funeral procession, than anything else. The journey to the top of the mountain had been made in utter silence, with Psyche being carried on a litter of simple white cloth. Her mother had dressed her in her white supplicant's robes, leaving her face clean and her hair unadorned. She was even barefoot. She had received none of the rites or rituals that her sisters had received before their marriages, as it was widely assumed that Psyche would simply be killed the moment the monster came for her.

When they had arrived at the top of the mountain, Psyche had climbed off her litter and embraced her now weeping parents. Maia had embraced her solemnly, whispering a prayer in her ear as she let go. Psyche had mustered up a smile for them from somewhere deep inside, waving her hands and telling them not to worry, she would be fine here, alone. She told them to hurry and get themselves down the mountain to safety. They had refused, but she had insisted. All too soon, they had disappeared from her sight. Psyche had watched them walk back down the mountain, until the craggy ridges had obscured their forms.

Now, Psyche desperately tried to regulate her breathing, but she couldn't seem to stop the strangled, gasping pants that were issuing from her mouth. Her hands were trembling violently as she lifted them to her cheeks. Her fingertips found the tears that were rolling down her face in a torrent and she scrubbed at her eyes furiously, trying to stop the flow. When Psyche was satisfied that her weeping had ceased, she lowered her shaking hands and twisted them into the flowing fabric of her skirt.

In an attempt to distract herself, she looked around the clearing. The dawn was slightly chilly and Psyche was glad that she was wearing a woollen cloak over her chiton. The sky above was a warm, gentle shade of pink, shot through with tendrils of gold and adorned with pale wisps of cloud. She guessed that it would not be long until the sun rose completely.

In an attempt to keep herself calm, Psyche sat down on a large, windswept boulder, smoothing her supplicant's robes and tucking them beneath her legs. She turned her thoughts towards Maia; the life lessons she had taught her and the many stories she had regaled her with to while away the lonely hours. She decided that telling herself a story would help to pass the time and keep her mind off her impending demise.

Mentally rifling through her collection of tales, she suddenly recalled the story of Prince Theseus and the Minotaur. She remembered that she had thought about King Minos and the Minotaur in passing on Poseidon's feast day and decided to pick up where she had left off. The story was long and complex, easy to lose yourself in and perfect for passing time. The moral of the story, Maia had told her, was to show courage in the face of mortal danger, but not to let your luck later bloom into arrogance. Luck, Maia always firmly maintained, was a gift bestowed on mortals by the Gods alone.

Theseus was the son of King Aegeus, the King of Athens, by a woman named Aethra. Before Aegeus met Aethra and before Theseus was born, Aegeus went to consult the Delphian Oracle, as he had no children. In a vague and cryptic answer, the Oracle told Aegeus not to untie his wine skin until he arrived back home.

Confused by this proclamation, Aegeus went and visited his friend, King Pittheus, the ruler of Troezen. Once he had heard what the Oracle had said, Pittheus realised that Aegeus was likely to conceive a powerful son after the feast celebrating his return to Athens. He plied his guest with wine until he was drunk and then put him to bed with his daughter Aethra, who became pregnant with Theseus.

Before Aegeus left for Athens, he took Aethra to a large boulder under which he placed his sword and sandals. He told her that, should she give birth to a son, she must wait until he was strong enough to raise the boulder before sending him to Athens to claim his birthright.

Once Theseus was born and came of age, Aethra explained that he was the heir to the Athenian throne. Theseus retrieved the sword and sandals from beneath the boulder and set off for Athens. While on his journey, Theseus proved his bravery and strength numerous times by slaying bandits and assorted monsters. On his way through the kingdom of Eleusis, Theseus was forced to accept the challenge of the King to a wrestling match. The King died as a result of the match and Theseus was made King of Eleusis.

When he finally arrived in Athens, Theseus discovered that Aegeus was having trouble holding onto the throne. He was being challenged by the fifty sons of his half-brother and was also under the spell of Medea, a powerful witch. She was currently residing in Athens with her son, who she hoped would gain the throne once Aegeus died.

Theseus hid his identity, but Medea knew who he was. She persuaded Aegeus to let her poison him at a banquet, but Aegeus recognised Theseus' sword as he carved the meat. Thus exposed, Medea and her son fled Athens, while Aegeus named Theseus as his successor. Theseus went on to prove himself a hero in Athens by dealing with his uncle's sons and also by slaying a wild bull that was ravaging the poleis of Marathon to the north-east.

Theseus also volunteered to confront the Minotaur, repulsed at the idea of having to send a tribute of human slaves to Crete every year to be devoured. No man had ever encountered the Minotaur and lived to tell the tale, so Aegeus despaired. He made Theseus promise that, should he survive, he would fly white sails on his ship as he returned home. If he was killed, the crew would fly black sails.

When Theseus arrived at Minos' palace in Knossos, disguised as one of the slaves, Aphrodite gave him an important ally. Princess Ariadne, Minos' daughter, fell desperately in love with Theseus upon sight. She knew the trick behind solving the Labyrinth and, as the slaves were being sent in, she told Theseus that she would help him, but only if he agreed to marry her. When he gave her his word, Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of twine and a sword. She told him to fasten the thread to the wall at the entrance of the Labyrinth and unravel it as he went, following it back to get out again.

Theseus found the Minotaur in the middle of the Labyrinth and battled with the creature, eventually killing it. He then set sail for Athens, taking Ariadne and the Athenian slaves with him. They stopped at the island of Dia where Theseus sent Ariadne ashore for supplies, then set sail when she left, abandoning her there. It was said that Theseus was in love with another woman and that Ariadne was eventually taken by the God Dionysus as his wife.

Theseus was soon repaid by the Gods for breaking his vow. As he sailed back into Athens, Theseus forgot to change his sails to white. Aegeus was watching for his son's ship from the Athenian acropolis and, seeing the black sails and thinking Theseus had died, threw himself from the acropolis into the ocean and died.

Theseus was made the King of Athens and he made Eleusis and the four tribes of Attica—Geleontes, Hopletes, Argadeis and Aegicoreis—a part of Athenian territory. On one of his exploits, he captured the Queen of the Amazons, who later bore him a son, but died in childbirth. He also famously provided Oedipus—the cursed former King of Thebes—and his daughter Antigone with sanctuary at Colonus just outside Athens.

More misfortune befell Theseus when his second wife Phaedra—another of King Minos' daughters—fell in love with Theseus' son by the Amazonian Queen. The son was horrified by his stepmother's feelings towards him and Phaedra promised to keep her love for him a secret. In truth, she felt deeply wounded and humiliated by his rejection and hung herself, leaving a letter which claimed that he had attempted to rape her. Theseus banished his son from Athens and the boy was killed in a chariot accident before his father discovered the truth.

Theseus later abducted the twelve year old Helen of Sparta as his bride, claiming that as the daughter of Zeus she was the only woman worthy of being his bride. Unfortunately for him, Helen's brothers, Castor and Polydeuces—otherwise known as the Dioscuri—defeated the Athenians and rescued Helen, driving Theseus into exile. He died on the island of Scyros when it's King, fearful of Theseus, pushed him off a cliff while he was admiring the view. His bones were later retrieved by an Athenian admiral and brought back to be kept in a shrine.

Psyche was so absorbed in the story that she failed to notice the person standing in front of her.

Zephyrus observed the girl in front of him stoically, rather impressed that she appeared to be awaiting her fate calmly and with great dignity. He had half expected to find the girl a sobbing mess, or be compelled to retrieve her by force as she attempted to flee. Zephyrus knew what the words of Apollo's proclamation were; Eros had visited him a short time ago to inform him, still steaming with fury. The fact that Psyche was sitting here, waiting patiently for the unknown, spoke volumes about her personal honour and courage. Zephyrus had a feeling that he would rather like this girl.

Not wanting to frighten her unnecessarily when he first appeared, Zephyrus had asked his brother Notus to lend him a veil of fog to cover his enormous wings. He knew that he would appear to Psyche as a mortal man would, except with a strange mist clinging to his shoulders. Once she knew who he was and wasn't afraid, he would shuck the fog and let her see his true form.

"My lady," he addressed Psyche gently, causing the girl's head to snap up in surprise. She let out a startled yelp and promptly fell sideways off the boulder she was sitting on, landing in a graceless sprawl on the grass. She looked up at the stranger through a curtain of dark hair and found herself smiling abashedly as his lips twitched in an obvious effort not to laugh. She surreptitiously looked him over, finding him to be quite handsome and not in the least threatening. There was, however, a definite look of strangeness about him, something about the way the air rippled and shifted around his shoulders. Psyche decided that the man was not mortal, which didn't surprise her as much as it should have. She had become increasingly desensitised to meetings with the Immortals. So, was this the monster that was going to eat her?

"You may laugh, my lord," Psyche informed Zephyrus wryly, pushing her hair out of her face as she sat up. "I fear that it is a well known fact that I am extremely clumsy and unladylike."

Zephyrus smiled, liking the girl more for her lack of guile. It also seemed she had mistaken him for Eros. He would have to correct that mistake directly.

"Ah, you need not be so formal whilst addressing me, my lady," he told her. "I am merely the servant of your future husband."

Psyche's mouth went dry. Was her 'future husband' such a terrible and horrendous creature that he would not brave the sunlight to come and collect her himself?

"I… I see," she said finally. "What am I to call you then?"

"My name is Zephyrus," the stranger answered. He smiled wryly as Psyche's eyes grew rather large in her pale face.

"You… are you… the West Wind?" she squeaked.

"Very good!" he answered, flattered that she had known who he was straight away. He raised an eyebrow as the girl's gaze turned speculative. "What is it?" he asked.

"It's nothing!" Psyche answered hastily. "I just thought… well, I just thought that you would have… well… wings. Being the West Wind and all."

Zephyrus laughed good-naturedly. "I am glad you are taking this so well," he told her. "And yes, I do indeed have wings. I had my brother Notus cover them for me so that you would not be frightened. Would you like to see them?"

"Yes!" Psyche answered eagerly, her expression betraying her curiosity.

Fighting the urge to preen, Zephyrus shrugged off the fog, revealing his extensive wings. Psyche's eyes widened once again as she climbed to her feet, coming closer to him for a better look. She reached out to stroke the gleaming bronze feathers, then realised she was being rather rude.

"May I touch them, Zephyrus?" Psyche asked tentatively. "I've never seen wings before."

"You may," Zephyrus answered. He watched the girl's beautiful face light up with happiness and firmly and repetitively reminded himself that this was Eros' woman. He was deeply in love with Chloris. Who was currently waiting for them back at the palace.

Psyche reverently smoothed her hands across Zephyrus' wings, giggling nervously when he flexed them, obviously showing off. Caught up in the surreal experience, she completely forgot about her anxiety and fear for a few moments.

Zephyrus took in Psyche's enraptured expression as she examined the feathers closely. At least wings won't be an issue with her, he thought dryly. Just the loneliness and lack of trust.

"Well my lady," he began after a few minutes. "We really must be going."

"Where are we going?" Psyche asked, the dread settling firmly back into the pit of her stomach.

"To the house of your future husband," Zephyrus answered. He scooped the girl into his arms before she could protest. "It is my duty to carry you there."

"We're going to fly there?" Psyche asked incredulously.

"It's the only way to get there," Zephyrus informed her. "That's why I was sent to collect you." He strode to the edge of the mountain peak and glanced down at his charge when she began to tremble in his arms. She was staring down at the ocean below, an expression of pure terror on her face.

"You're afraid of heights." It wasn't a question.

"Y-yes," was her stammered confirmation. "I'm sorry, I know it's foolish."

"It's all right." Zephyrus lifted a hand and gently tucked her face into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. "It's probably best that you close your eyes now. You can hang on to me, if you'd like." Psyche's arms wound themselves tightly around his neck and Zephyrus realised just how frightened she really was.

"Are you ready?" he asked her softly.

"Yes." Her voice was muffled by his skin. Zephyrus spread his wings wide and stepped off the edge of the mountain, falling for an instant before he caught a thermal breeze and began to glide smoothly in the direction of Eros' palace.

Psyche had shrieked in fear as they fell through the air, her heart in her mouth. But now, they seemed to be moving through the air without any trouble at all. Gingerly, she raised her face from Zephyrus' shoulder and gulped as she took in the endless stretch of wine dark ocean beneath her. The West Wind's arms were all that was keeping her from tumbling down into the ocean, just like Icarus. She clung to Zephyrus even more tightly and pushed her face back into his shoulder. This whole experience seemed so surreal and strange. This was the first time she had ever been in contact with a man other than her father. However, this particular man was immortal and had wings. If only my father could see me now, Psyche thought wryly. As she stared at the darkness behind her closed eyes, Psyche could feel the rush of energy that had kept her awake the entire night beginning to drain out of her body, leaving her feeling exhausted. I'll just rest against his shoulder for a while, Psyche told herself. With my eyes closed.

"Try to relax my lady, we will arrive at the palace very soon," Zephyrus reassured her. Psyche didn't respond and the rest of the journey was silent.

When Zephyrus touched down in the lush gardens outside Eros' palace, he realised that Psyche's body had gone slack in his arms. He held her away from his chest and realised she had fallen asleep. He felt a rush of sympathy for her, knowing somehow that she had not slept the night before and was probably extremely overwrought. He found a pretty little knoll under a shady tree where the grass was thick and soft and laid Psyche down, taking care not to wake her. He made sure to position her so that she would sight the palace easily when she woke up. Petting her hair affectionately, Zephyrus left her there to sleep, silently wishing her luck.

V

When Psyche woke, she was alone. She raised herself from the velvety grass, looking around but finding no trace of Zephyrus. Feeling a little disappointed at losing someone who had seemed to be her only friend in this frightening situation, she reluctantly climbed to her feet, brushing off her robes. Looking at the sun, she realised that it was late afternoon. Considering Zephyrus had come for her at dawn, she had slept for many hours.

A splash of colour in the corner of her eye got Psyche's attention and she turned, exhaling in awe when she realised she was staring at a palace.

It was simply beautiful, with an august front adorned with white marble and twelve pillars decorated with gold. There was a large set of carved marble stairs in the centre, leading to a pair of wide golden doors. As Psyche gazed upon the splendour of the place, she realised that the palace was the work of Immortal hands and most likely the retreat of a most powerful individual.

Drawn by curiosity, Psyche approached the palace entrance, hoping earnestly that this was the place she was supposed to enter. The huge golden doors swung open easily at her tentative touch, sparking a hunch that the place was magical. She stepped into the main hall and surveyed her surroundings in wonder. The floor was smooth, fawn coloured marble and was chill under her bare feet. Large, sunlit golden pillars held up the vaulted ceiling, which was draped with silk the colour of cream. The walls were covered with flawless tapestries, depicting Gods and men in various scenes; hunting, feasting, farming and dancing. As Psyche walked slowly across the expansive room, she trailed her fingers down one of the weavings, marvelling at the quality of the work.

She realised with a painful twinge that she had never completed the tapestry she was going to give to her father. Shaking off the saddening thought, she called out, "Hello? Is anyone here?" Her voice echoed and bounced off the walls, but no answer came. She decided to explore the palace further, maybe she would find a servant that could help her.

Venturing beyond the main hall, she discovered many other rooms, all filled with tapestries, sculptures and paintings. The very walls themselves were decorated with delicate carvings depicting various animals and objects. She eventually found what she supposed were the apartments of the residing Lord and Lady, which were breathtaking in their elegance. The substantially sized bed of down was draped with crimson sheets and cushions of silk along with spun gold coverlets and curtains. There was a huge mirror hanging on one wall, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. The frame was of twisted vines worked from silver and Psyche caught a glimpse of her reflection; a pale, fragile and ungainly creature amidst a sea of beauty and splendour.

There was a large bathing chamber adjacent to the bedroom with fittings of white marble and gold. The bath itself was sizeable enough that Psyche believed she could float on her back in the water.

The entire place seemed as silent as a tomb and Psyche felt somewhat uneasy as she wandered from room to room. She had not caught sight of anyone yet at all, but she still felt as though she was being watched. It was extremely unsettling. She stopped in the middle of what appeared to be the banquet hall, chewing her bottom lip and trying to decide what she should do.

"My lady," a soft female voice addressed her, making Psyche start and cry out in fright. She looked around sharply, but could see no one.

"Who's there?' she asked, her voice wobbly.

"We are your servants, my lady," another voice, male this time, answered her. Psyche continued to search for the source of the voices, utterly perplexed.

"You cannot see us," the male voice told her after a few moments. Psyche could have sworn she heard a slight note of mirth in his words.

"Why can't I see you?" Psyche wanted to know.

"Because our Lord prefers that we are not seen," the female voice responded. "But do not be afraid my lady. We are here to serve your every wish."

"What are your names?" Psyche questioned the voices. "It would comfort me to know who I am speaking to."

"My name is Admetus," the male voice informed her. "The girl is called Alcestis."

"It is an honour to… meet… you both, Admetus and Alcestis," Psyche told them sincerely. She was glad to have someone to talk to in this strange place, even if they were invisible.

"We have been instructed by our Lord to tell you that everything you see around you is yours to enjoy," Alcestis began. "We, your servants, shall obey all your commands with our utmost care and diligence. If it pleases you my lady, you may retire to your apartment and repose on your bed of down, and when you see fit, a bath will be drawn for you. Supper awaits you in the banquet hall at your leisure."

Psyche supposed that she should do as she was told. The more obediently she behaved, the more likely her husband would be pleased with her and decide not to eat her. The hunger pains in her stomach intensified at the mention of a meal.

"I have already slept a while in the dale outside the palace," Psyche confessed. "But the prospect of a bath is most enticing. Would it be all right to abstain from sleep for now and bathe before coming to supper?"

"My lady may do as she wishes," Admetus replied. "Proper clothing and food will be provided at your pleasure. If you would repair to the bath, Alcestis will attend you."

Psyche followed Admetus' instructions and found the bath ready when she arrived, the fragrant water steaming gently.

"Alcestis?" she asked nervously.

"My lady?"

"Um… Admetus… he's not here as well is he?" The thought of being spied on while bathing put Psyche on edge.

"Of course not my lady!" Alcestis sounded appalled. "I would never let him anywhere near your bathing chamber! You must trust me my lady, we're your servants and we would not dishonour you in any way."

Psyche still felt a little uneasy, but she didn't want to upset Alcestis when she'd only known her for such a short time. She stripped off her plain white supplicant's robes and left them on a delicate brass table, stepping into the warm water gingerly. Finding it to be a suitable temperature, she sank down to her shoulders with a grateful sigh. She was startled to feel capable hands pouring water over her head and washing her hair thoroughly, relaxing when she remembered that Alcestis was her attendant here.

After a long soak in the warm water, complete with a soothing scalp massage and innocuous chatter with Alcestis, Psyche climbed out of the bath, making an effort not to shy away as a towel seemed to wrap itself around her and briskly rubbed her dry. It would most likely take her some time to adjust to the fact that she couldn't see her servants.

When she entered her apartment she found a long white gown lying across the bed, which proceeded to lift up into the air and drape itself over her body.

"How would you like your hair fashioned, my lady?" Alcestis asked her.

"I'm not sure," Psyche responded, biting her lower lip. "I am fairly ignorant when it comes to fashioning hair, my attendant Maia always took care of it for me."

"Would it please you, my lady, if I did the same?"

"Very much so, Alcestis. If you would take care of my hair, I will take care of the pins and the belt for my gown."

The two women worked quickly in comfortable silence. Psyche's hair was brushed with olive oil and curled into dark spirals that reminded her forcibly of Phaedra's effortless curls. She forced herself to sit still as Alcestis' invisible hands applied kohl to her eyes and soft, reddened beeswax to her lips.

"You are so naturally beautiful my lady, I hardly need to use any cosmetics on your face," Alcestis told her warmly. The attendant allowed Psyche to daub herself with jasmine perfume before leading her into the banquet hall for supper.

Psyche had thought that eating alone would be awkward and lonely, however she found that she enjoyed herself immensely. She had been seated at an empty table, which immediately covered itself with a spread of the most delectable delicacies and finest wines she had ever tasted. She attempted to persuade Admetus and Alcestis to join her, but they were both scandalised at the request to share a table with their mistress.

In the end, they both stayed and kept her company, Psyche finding that Admetus in particular possessed a fast wit and a clever tongue. The two of them had bantered and joked back and forth easily, with Psyche enjoying a conversation wholeheartedly for the very first time in her life. Afterwards, Admetus had played the lyre while Alcestis filled the role of a bard and sang the story of Atalanta, the talented huntress and sprinter who vowed only to marry the man who could best her in a foot race. Melanion won with the aid of Aphrodite, who gave him three golden apples to throw during the race. Atalanta was distracted by each apple, stopping to pick them up which gave Melanion the opportunity to get past her. Psyche was absolutely delighted, as she had never heard the story before.

Eventually, the time came when Alcestis suggested that Psyche retire for the night. All at once, the awful foreboding clutched at Psyche's heart and her good mood dissipated. She had not seen her husband before now, but he would surely come for her whilst she was alone in the apartments.

With a heavy heart, she thanked the attendants for their hard work and set off toward the apartment, forcing herself to put one foot in front of the other. As she crossed the threshold, she observed that many candles had been lit, flooding the room in flickering golden light. The sheets on the bed had also been carefully turned down.

Psyche crossed the room slowly and came to stand in front of a large, wrought iron candelabra. After staring at the soft golden flames for a long moment, she closed her eyes and uttered a silent, desperate prayer to whomever might be listening to spare her life.

VI

"Psyche."

The gentle male voice caused the raven haired girl to jump in fright and nearly knock over the candelabra, now the only source of light in the room. All the other candles seemed to have mysteriously extinguished themselves.

Stifling a chuckle at her endearing clumsiness, Eros watched as Psyche whirled and looked around the room with large, frightened eyes. The golden glow of the candle flame cast her face in shadows, highlighting her high cheekbones and delicate brows. Her hair was loose and had been fashioned into soft, shiny ringlets that fell around her shoulders, some brushing against her breasts. The gown she was wearing was form-fitting and almost transparent, fashioned from delicate white silk that clung to the rounded lines of her body. She wore a belt of white and gold silken rope around her waist and the shoulders of her gown were each fastened with a golden pin. As she shifted, the intoxicating scent of jasmine reached Eros' nose. Plainly put, Psyche was breathtaking. Eros literally stopped breathing for a few seconds as he stared at her.

That whole outfit has to be Chloris' doing, Eros thought, gulping a bit as he felt an immediate stirring in his loins. She knew his preferences intimately; what aroused him and what drove him crazy. She knew that he preferred women to wear their hair unbound and she also knew that he adored the scent of jasmine.

"W-who's there?" Psyche stammered.

"Your husband, of course," Eros answered her, his voice a seductive purr.

Psyche felt a fine shiver travel down her spine at the tone of his voice. She wasn't exactly sure what that tone meant, but she was almost certain it was something that regarded marital activities.

"M-my lord," Psyche stuttered, inclining her head in what she hoped was an appropriately welcoming and submissive pose. It couldn't be helped that she was practically trembling from head to foot with fear. Her eyes flicked around the room again, but she still couldn't see anyone. This was definitely strange. His voice sounded like he was only a few feet away, but there was definitely no one else in the room with her.

"Psyche." Her eyes widened in surprise as she realised that now the voice was directly behind her. Genuinely frightened, she began to turn around, but was prevented by gentle hands resting on her shoulders.

"You're frightening me," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "Why can't I see you?" There was a silence following this question and Psyche silently wished she could tear her own tongue out. She had no doubt just offended some monster with the power to eat her whenever he wished.

"Don't be frightened," the voice told her softly. He, or it, was so close that she could feel breath on her cheek. "I'm not going to hurt you." The hands remained where they were, on her shoulders. Psyche desperately tried to catch a glimpse of him without turning her head, but she couldn't see anything.

"Are you invisible? Are you a monster?" Psyche's voice was a little more high-pitched than she would have liked. She felt her cheeks grow warm as she realised that she had spoken again without thinking. Honestly, this thing was going to kill her for her impertinence alone!

To her bewilderment, her answer was a deep, masculine chuckle that sent that peculiar shiver down her spine again.

"I am not a monster my sweet. But still, I think it would be better if you didn't see me."

"Are you going to eat me?" Psyche squeaked fearfully, torn between not wanting to anger whoever the voice belonged to and wanting the terrible anxiety to end.

"I have no intention of eating you." The faint note of exasperation in the voice was completely missed by Psyche as she practically sagged with relief. Praise the Gods! She wasn't going to be dismembered and devoured!

All of a sudden, the anxiety was back full force as something else occurred to her. If this… thing wasn't going to eat her, what did it want with her?

"Psyche," the voice interrupted her thoughts, "I want you to blow out the candles."

"What?" she whispered, beginning to panic. If she blew out the candles, the room would be pitch black. She wouldn't be able to see anything and she wouldn't be able to run if she needed to. It was effectively cutting off her only escape.

"Blow out the candles," Eros repeated patiently. "I promise that I won't hurt you, but I would like you to trust me." He slid his hands from her shoulders down to the small of her back and gave her the gentlest push. "Please."

Psyche stared at the flickering candles. What was going to happen once she blew them out? She felt so afraid, the feeling was almost like suffocating. All at once, Maia's words drifted through her mind: Promise me that no matter what happens, you will never show them your fear.

I suppose that principle applies to this creature more than any other, Psyche thought. I must conquer my fear and face my destiny. Tensing her stomach muscles to squash down against her churning tummy, Psyche leant forward and blew the candles out with one gusty exhalation of air.

The darkness was so thick, Psyche could almost feel it pressing against her eyes. She couldn't see a single thing, not even her hands, which she held up in front of her face. She was standing here in the dark, completely vulnerable and at the mercy of some unknown being that was standing right behind her. She fervently hoped that it would keep its word and not hurt her.

Eros took in Psyche's form, the darkness posing no hindrance to his immortal eyes. With an inaudible sigh, he dropped the guise of invisibility from his body. Now that she couldn't see anything in this darkness, he was free to be visible and use all his energy in becoming acquainted with Psyche's body.

Reclaiming her shoulders with his hands once again, Eros turned Psyche to face him. Her eyes were wide, staring blankly into the impenetrable blackness around her. He stepped closer, until his body was almost flush with hers, separated by only an inch or so. His hands moved upwards to her face, his left cupping her jaw while the fingers of his right feathered across her cheekbone.

Psyche gasped softly at the contact, a caress the last thing she had been expecting.

"You are so beautiful," Eros told her, tracing the outline of her parted lips with his thumb. Psyche gaped at him, completely speechless. Eros chuckled, thoroughly loving the poleaxed expression on her face. "Why are you so surprised Psyche? Surely you have been told that you are beautiful before?"

"Yes, my lord," Psyche answered, finally finding her voice. She would have left it at that, had Eros not stopped in his gentle caressing and tilted her chin upwards.

"I don't want you to call me that," he chided her. "I don't want you to speak to me like that either."

"W-why?"

"I am your husband but I am not your lord. You and I are equal here, in every way. I want you to be able to tell me whatever you want to tell me. I want to listen to you talk to me about whatever you want to talk about."

"What? Why? Why would you want… that?" Psyche was doing a wonderful reprisal of that poleaxed look.

Truthfully, she felt ready to faint. Not only was he not going to kill her, he seemed… pleased that he was her husband!

"What would you like me to call you?" Psyche asked shyly.

"One day I will tell you my name," Eros answered her. "But I would love it if you called me by a pet name. I plan on calling you by many pet names." Eros could practically feel Psyche blush, the heat was that intense. "Perhaps, until you feel comfortable, you could make do with calling me 'husband.'"

"All right. Husband." She said it so softly Eros almost didn't catch it.

"Good." Smiling like an utter fool, Eros leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, amused at the way she stiffened at the contact. He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her flush against his body, letting her feel the physical effect she was having on him. Her sharp intake of breath and trembling limbs told him that not only had she noticed his manhood, she was also about to collapse from nerves.

He pressed his lips tenderly against her temple, using one hand to cradle the back of her head. "Don't be frightened my love," he murmured. "I know that you are innocent and inexperienced in the practices of love."

"Y-yes," her voice was somewhere between a surprised stammer and a breathy gasp.

"Trust me to take care of you Psyche," Eros told her, punctuating his statement with a string of kisses along her jaw line. "I love you and I'm going to use this whole night to prove it to you."

"You… love me?" Psyche whispered, shivering as her husband continued to kiss his way down her neck.

Eros raised his head, taking in the fragile hope woven through her words and written across her face. How could he not love her, when she looked at him like that?

"Of course I love you," he answered simply. "That's why I took you as my wife."

There it was, the one thing she had always wanted so very much: love. Knowing that this man loved her unleashed a heady feeling of happiness Psyche had thought she would never experience. He loved her! He loved her!

Eros watched Psyche's face light up with joy and felt privileged that he had been able to give her something that brought her so much happiness. He got the shock of his life when she leaned forward and kissed him. True, she missed and kissed him half on the mouth and half on the chin, but still, a kiss was a kiss!

Realising that she had kissed him in the wrong place, Psyche drew back with a nervous laugh. How embarrassing! Her first proper kiss and she missed! She was caught off guard when Eros followed her back, claiming her lips in a kiss that made her knees feel weak. It was different to the first kiss he had given her, which had just been a brief, gentle brush. This kiss was a firm press of his lips against hers, but his head felt like it was on a slight angle, so that their noses didn't get in the way. She closed her eyes as her husband kissed her repeatedly on the mouth, keeping his hand where it was on the back of her head while the other stroked up and down her spine in smooth, gentle sweeps. Psyche decided that she liked kissing and rested her hands flat against her husband's chest with a contented sigh. She was surprised to encounter warm skin and hard muscle under her palms instead of cloth. Curious, she broke the kiss and shifted her hands, running her fingertips gently over his skin. She smiled to herself when she felt his hand on her back stop moving and heard his breath catch ever so slightly. She continued to run her hands over his skin, concluding that as far as she could tell, his chest felt like any normal man's.

Eros tried to restrain himself from throwing Psyche to the floor right then and there and making hard, passionate love to her. That little sigh of hers a few seconds ago had almost done him in. He had to control himself! Psyche was a virgin and it was important that this first time was something special for her. He would use every skill he possessed to bring her pleasure and, most importantly, he would not rush her. He had all night to make love to her.

Drawing in a calming breath, he moved his hands so that one was resting between her shoulder blades while the other was splayed in the small of her back. He bowed his head and pressed his lips against her collarbones and the hollow of her throat, alternating each kiss with a swift glide of his tongue. Her skin was just as sweet and intoxicating as Eros had imagined it would be. With a wicked grin, he worked his way up her slender white neck, wanting to taste her mouth properly.

Psyche trembled as she felt her husband's mouth against her décolletage. His lips were incredibly soft and warm and they were setting off a plethora of unknown feelings in different parts of her body. Her breasts felt strangely tight and heavy, while there was an odd fluttering feeling in the pit of her stomach that seemed to radiate ripples of heat and cold. She bit back a moan when she realised that he was using his tongue as well as his lips. It felt so good, but Psyche knew that she should stay quiet and passive. In her opinion, it would be most unladylike to moan like an animal. Wives were expected to be submissive and receptive to their husbands and Psyche desperately wanted to be a good wife. Her head fell back of its own volition as her neck was lavished with the same attention, her body seemingly ignoring her thoughts.

Eros paused in his ministrations to observe his wife. He purred with satisfaction as he took in her blissful expression and closed eyes. He knew that she had stifled a noise just a moment ago and he was determined to banish all of her inhibitions. Cradling her head once again, he leaned in and dragged his tongue across her closed lips. Her gasp of surprise was all the incentive Eros needed and he moved quickly, sliding his tongue into her mouth.

The heat rippling through Psyche's body seemed to intensify as she struggled to cope with this new sensory onslaught. This kiss felt completely different to the others, it was warmer and softer and more… Psyche struggled to find the word. Intense? Her husband seemed to be exploring her mouth thoroughly, stroking his tongue against hers in a sensual rhythm that was making her feel dizzy. She moved her hands upwards, clasping his broad shoulders for support. The last thing she wanted to do was fall in a heap on the floor and have her husband discover how clumsy she was. Psyche wondered dazedly about what would happen if she returned his kiss. Was she supposed to kiss him back like this? She supposed that she could try. If he didn't like it, he would surely tell her.

Eros struggled to maintain his self-control when Psyche shyly began to respond to the kiss, sliding her tongue against his. How was it that such an innocent could arouse him so? He pulled away, breathing heavily and was relieved that her breathing sounded laboured also. If she kept kissing him like that, everything would be over within the next couple of minutes. Eros' hands clenched lightly—one crushing silk, the other fisting in Psyche's hair—itching to tear the clothing from her body.

"Did I do something wrong?" Psyche's voice was husky and anxious. Eros realised that his pulling away so suddenly must have caused her to think she had made a mistake.

"No," he answered, uncurling the fingers of one hand so they could comb gently through her hair. "You are just so beautiful and perfect, I am having trouble controlling myself."

Psyche's heart began to pound painfully in her chest at his words. She felt a little frightened by his words; what was it that he couldn't control himself from doing? At the same time, she felt a throbbing tightness begin to build between her legs, the same feeling that she had felt when Maia told her the story of Oedipus and when she had been waking up that afternoon on Poseidon's feast day. All of a sudden, Psyche wondered if the incredible feeling that had pulsed through her body that day as she woke up had something to do with the things married people did in private. She had often heard the female servants whispering about particular men and their ability to bring pleasure to women using different parts of their body. At the time, she had wondered what that could possibly mean.

She felt her husband shift his weight slightly, reminding her of the hardness that pressed into her stomach. Pushing her slight panic aside for the moment, Psyche wondered if he was feeling the same sensation between his legs that she was feeling between hers.

"You don't have to… control yourself," she whispered after a long silence, desperately wanting to please him. "I am your wife, it is my duty to give you what you want." She was unprepared for the feel of his hands sliding up and down the outside of her thighs, caressing her skin through the thin silk she was wearing.

"Is that so?" Eros breathed into her ear, loving the way she shivered. He took his hands away from her skin. "In that case my love, turn around." There was a large mirror behind her and he wanted to see her face every moment while he touched her.

Psyche did as she was told, wondering what was going to happen. She shrieked in surprise as his fingers deftly undid the pins at her shoulders, causing her gown to fall in a puddle around her feet. She was completely naked!

Eros watched in amusement as Psyche covered her body self-consciously with her hands. He pressed his body into the curve of her back and gently pried her shaking hands away from her body.

"Don't hide yourself," he told her. "Especially not from me. I love every part of you and I want to admire and worship you." Eros let her hands drop to her sides and let himself take in the sight of her body, reflected in the mirror.

Her skin was pale and delicate, even more so than the white skin on her face and arms. She had full breasts, a small waist, rounded hips and long, slender legs. In that moment, Eros thought Psyche to be infinitely more beautiful than his mother. The Goddess of Love was nothing but a pale and lacking comparison to his wife.

He moved his hands to her thighs again, tracing the slightly rounded outline with the lightest of touches. He let them drift around and smoothed his palms over her backside gently and then trailed upwards to stroke the sensitive curve of her waist with the pads of his fingers.

Psyche gasped despite her best attempts to stay quiet. Whatever it was that he was doing, it felt amazing. Every touch of his fingers would send bolts of heated pleasure tingling just under her skin. After his hands feathered lightly across her stomach, they rose a little higher, fingers sweeping against the outside of her ribcage. Psyche let her head fall back, her eyes fluttering shut.

Eros brushed the backs of his hands against the sides of her breasts and was rewarded with another small gasp. Growing more confident through her reactions, he cupped her breasts gently with both hands, stroking his thumbs across the peaks. This time Psyche let out a full fledged mewl, arching her back slightly to press her breasts more firmly into his hands.

"Do you like that, beloved?" he purred into her ear.

"Yes," she whispered. Eros could see that she was blushing, even in the dark.

"Don't be afraid to tell me if you like something," he told her, tweaking her nipples lightly with his fingers. The way she shuddered against him was extremely gratifying.

"I like that," Psyche murmured. "Don't stop." She was feeling acutely embarrassed, however the thought of him stopping if she didn't speak was motivation enough for her to push her modesty aside.

Eros' brows disappeared into his hairline. This woman was so intriguing and so arousing. Unable to stop himself, he moved silently to stand in front of her. "If you liked that my love…," he whispered.

Psyche's only warning was the soft brush of breath across her chest before his mouth closed over her breast. She moaned in pleasure as he suckled gently, swirling his tongue around one nipple while he stroked and teased the other with his fingertips. His other hand slid slowly down her stomach, the calluses on his palm scraping gently against her smooth skin. Psyche was so focussed on the delicious sensations his mouth was creating that she didn't fully realise what her husband was doing until he touched her right there.

To read the explicit, unsanitised version of the love scene, please visit my profile, where you will find a link to my Live Journal.

After lying in this way for a while, Eros felt Psyche's fingers combing gently through his hair. He nuzzled her neck before lifting his face to kiss her.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. She sounded a little bit overwhelmed and Eros guessed that her release must have been more intense than the last one. He rolled onto his side, gathering Psyche into his arms and curling himself around her.

"Was that… making love?" she asked him after a lengthy silence.

"Yes, it was," Eros replied. "Did you find it pleasurable?"

"Y-yes," Psyche responded, stammering a little. "Very much so." Eros chuckled.

"I'm glad. I want to be able to love you like this every night."

"What about during the day?" Psyche wanted to know.

"I won't be here during the day," Eros told her. "I have important matters to attend to. I will be leaving before you wake up."

"Won't you stay and let me see you when I wake up?" Psyche asked plaintively.

"No," Eros said firmly. His tone brooked no argument and Psyche pressed her lips together, feeling a little upset.

Eros felt Psyche hunch away from him and knew he'd upset her. He tightened his arms around her and dropped kisses on her naked shoulder. "I have my reasons for this, beloved," he said soothingly. "Please accept them for now. It doesn't mean I love you any less."

Psyche nodded, feeling slightly mollified. She felt a little bit sweaty and messy and would have liked to have another bath. However, her husband showed no sign of letting go of her and Psyche rather liked the way she was being held. His scent of ginger and sandalwood was warm and comforting and Psyche found her eyelids drooping. She was asleep a short time later, leaving her lover lying awake for many hours afterwards, staring into the darkness with thoughts and worries keeping sleep at bay.

Author's Notes

Please read and review or I won't know if I'm any good!

Another big chapter! Hopefully you all enjoyed it. I tried to portray Psyche's loss of virginity as realistically as I could. The scene where the male just 'slides in' without any great amount of difficulty or pain whatsoever just doesn't sit right with me. Sex (especially the first experience) is usually messy, painful and nerve-wracking. I tried to counterbalance this negativity of Psyche's experience with Eros' tenderness and concern.

There's a lot going on in this chapter, hopefully it wasn't all too much for you. There are a lot of little sub-plots going on between the other Gods and Goddesses, but I played them down in this chapter to get Psyche and Eros' first meeting over and done with. Next chapter will see some interaction between Chloris and Zephyrus. Ares might pop in for a bit of father/son bonding and Aphrodite, in an astonishing twist, might throw a pointless tanty over something trivial.

I hope you liked my retelling of the story of Oedipus. It was taken from the Greek play Oedipus Rex, which was written by Sophocles. It's one of my favourite Greek tragedies and it was also the play my Drama class performed in Year 12, 2001. If you ever come across it, I was one of the six members of the Chorus. I knew the entire script, front to back.

Theseus' story is quite long and complicated, but I set it out as best I could. When Aegeus committed suicide, the stretch of ocean he drowned in was named the Aegean Sea in his honour.

Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth at Minos' palace in Knossos. Minos kept Daedalus and Icarus prisoner on Crete since they were the only ones who knew the secret of the Labyrinth. Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings for himself and his son to aid their escape, attaching them with melted candle wax. As they flew away, Icarus was seized with a fancy to 'out-fly' the Sun, which resulted in the wax melting and the wings falling off. He fell into the ocean and drowned.

I got information on the four tribes of Attica from this website: .

It was just a passing mention, so it's probably not historically correct. Forgive me!