The young woman leaned against the warm earth, savoring the gentle breeze. She loved these cool summer evenings, but tonight, she couldn't enjoy it. She felt like she needed more adventure, more excitement in her life. Her desire grew as she watched the lonely figure at the ocean.
"Father, why can't I go? He's waiting for me." She turned to face her father.
"Aphrodite, I can't let you see a mortal man." Zeus' voice was strong and firm, but showed a hint of his one weakness. He loved Aphrodite dearly and was always going out of his way to protect her. But this was different. It was painful to see her beg to see someone she loved and be kept away from him. Still, he couldn't let her date a mortal man. But, he wondered if he should be so strict. He knew the pain of what she was going through.
Even on his knees, Zeus was taller than his father. No matter how much he begged, his father wouldn't let him marry his girlfriend. As a small child, his father had promised that Zeus would marry another woman. Zeus hated his father and he hated the woman he would be forced to marry. Zeus ignored his father's wishes and married his girlfriend. Three years later a horrible plague claimed Zeus wife. When Zeus went to his father for support, he threatened to kill him for he was a stranger trespassing on his property. Zeus had been disowned.
In an attempt to gain his father's love again, he married the woman he was arranged to as a child. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Zeus fell in love with the baby the second he held her in his large arms. Her pink face was so sweet when she slept. She didn't have a care in the world. He desperately wanted to relive the innocence of childhood, and to just be carefree. And he wanted to have a father again. He had not gone to the wedding; he still denied knowing him. He still remained the woman's wife in hope that his father would someday forgive him. Zeus looked at his wife, and then at the tiny girl, and swore that he would always be there for her and not make the same mistakes his father had. He would be more forgiving.
He wanted to let her, but he couldn't. He just couldn't.
"But he's a good man. And his family has so much respect for us gods. He's even named after Hephaestus."
"Aphrodite, I've told you a million times and I don't want to have to tell you ever again. You may not date Hephaestus!" His voice was so powerful that the ground shook. He had suddenly forgotten about the promise he made when Aphrodite was born.
Aphrodite had had enough of this nonsense. She loved Hephaestus. It didn't matter to her if he was mortal. She turned to face the ocean again, and thought to herself, He has no right to keep me away from Hephaestus. She stood up and ran off towards the beach. Zeus noticed this and pierced his staff through Aphrodite's flowing gown. She ran faster with every ounce of her strength, her determination, and her love for Hephaestus, letting the gown rip behind her.
"Where were you? I almost left," Hephaestus said as he saw Aphrodite.
"It was just another fight with my father."
They sat at the shore, watching the sun being swallowed by the darkness. It was silent except for the crashing waves. Once it was completely dark, Aphrodite put her arm around Hephaestus' waist and said, "I was thinking we marry tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? But I thought…"
"I know you wanted a big wedding, but it's now or never. My father's going to put a stop to this soon if we don't do it now. She paused for a moment and felt her throat tighten. She hoarsely whispered, "I don't want to lose you."
"Okay, let's get married tomorrow."
This was the best moment of Aphrodite's life. She was going to marry the man she loved. They were alone, on the beach. No one was telling her what to do. She felt invincible.
Hephaestus wanted this moment to never end. Aphrodite was perfect. He stared at her face, at her perfect eyes, admiring her perfect hair. They leaned closer and closer to each other, until Hephaestus felt Aphrodite's delicate lips against his.
Aphrodite let go of all her stress. She forgot about her duties, forgot about her father, forgot about the fight, forgot that she could be harshly punished. She remembered that she would be married, that she would be free and happy. The moment, the memories, clear and crisp, icy and vivid, like she was frozen in time.
She ignored the nagging sense in her head, the little voice that was telling her, "Something is wrong." She didn't care about it. She only cared about Hephaestus.
The wind got louder and stronger, whipping their faces and blowing their hair in every direction. It grew stronger and stronger until their faces stung. Hephaestus' lips broke off hers, and he fell to the ground.
Aphrodite backed away from Hephaestus, staring at his dead body in a state of disbelief and shock. As blood stained his clothes and waves washed over him, Aphrodite fell onto her knees and broke down crying.
Zeus walked over to Aphrodite, but said nothing. It was painful to watch her cry like this, to be so sad. But he had to say something. When Aphrodite noticed him, she shrieked, "It was you, wasn't it?"
"Aphrodite, I had to. But please, don't cry. Someday you'll marry a wonderful man, I promise."
"But you'll be the one who picks the man. You always act like I'm a baby, but I'm not. Hephaestus was the only choice I got to make on my own. And he was a wonderful man!"
"You don't understand…"
"No, you don't understand! You think I'm
just a kid but I'm not."
Zeus didn't respond to this. He just commanded, "Get up. We need to go back to Mount Olympus."
Aphrodite refused. Zeus grabbed her hand to pull her up, but was distracted when he felt a hard object on her finger.
"Aphrodite, what's on your finger?" His voice was stern again.
"A ring," she whispered.
"It's a mortal custom. It's a…a promise of marriage."
Zeus sighed heavily. Aphrodite heard him and asked, "What was that for?...Actually, I'm leaving. I'm going to the Underworld to see Hephaestus."
Against his better judgment, Zeus did not stop her. He wanted to, but loved Aphrodite too much to make her day any worse. Besides, he assured himself, she'll come back.
As usual, the Underworld was boring Hades. Every day the routine was the same. He was happy as the night came. The monotonous day was over. But he lost all hope of a good night's sleep when a beautiful young woman came storming to him and demanded to see her boyfriend Hephaestus.
Hades recognized her. She was a goddess.
Hades took her on a small boat to get across the river. He stopped at one end of the river, where Hephaestus was lying on the ground next to the river.
Aphrodite quickly jumped off the boat, causing it to almost tip over. She sat by Hephaestus, who was too weak to sit up. He looked pale, and she could still see the wound where the arrow had stabbed his back. He was still wearing the same blood-stained clothing. Aphrodite wanted so badly just to put her arms around him, to tell him that everything would be okay, but he winced when she just touched him. And, when she saw him, she didn't know is everything would really turn out alright.
When Hephaestus fell asleep, Aphrodite lay down on the cold stone ground and tried to fall asleep. She was exhausted, but was frightened by the dark walls that resembled a cave and the slimy, snake like creatures gliding through the muddy water. It took her hours for her to ignore it all and fall asleep.
"Aphrodite, Aphrodite, wake up!" Aphrodite thought it was Hephaestus shaking her shoulder and trying to tell her something, but when she turned around she saw something much different. The creature in front of her had a huge head and a small, chubby body. Its eyes were small black beads and its ears were as round and as large as tennis balls.
"I am so sorry to wake you, but there is something I must tell you. Without you, the goddess of love, on Earth, everyone is cold-hearted. A war is going to begin any day now. I saw it in a vision."
"Why are you telling me this?" Aphrodite asked groggily.
"If you go back now, everyone will be kind again and the war will not begin. If you stay here, hundreds of people could die in an awful war."
Aphrodite groaned and went back to sleep.
Poseidon stared out at the ocean, wondering what had gone so horribly wrong. Greece, their beautiful country, was now at war.
With each man killed, more blood spread out into the once clear water. No one wanted to sail the ocean anymore; they had no more trade. Poseidon knew that he could easily fix this problem. He could just ride though the wave. Then the water would be clear and beautiful again. But he was too depressed.
Poseidon loved Aphrodite. And she was off in the Underworld.
Every day, Poseidon wondered why Aphrodite had to fall in love with a mortal man. She deserved better. But Aphrodite didn't love Poseidon like he loved her. Sometimes he wondered if she deserved better than him, too.
Being a god was awesome. And for the first time in his life, he hated it. The expectations never bothered him. When he was in the ocean, he got it all off his mind. Now he felt so lonely. The Greeks would pray to the gods when they needed help. Poseidon was a god with no one to look up to or go to for advice. And he definitely couldn't go to Zeus. This was his entire fault.
Hermes found Aphrodite and Hephaestus in the Underworld. They were surprised to see him, but Hermes didn't notice. He was too nervous about what he had to tell them.
"Um…I have something to tell you." No one said anything until Hermes blurted out, "Hephaestus, your father died in a war that began yesterday."
Aphrodite let out a small gasp. Hephaestus was frozen; he didn't move a muscle.
When Hermes had left, Hephaestus pulled Aphrodite to a secluded corner of the Underworld.
"Aphrodite, I love you, but you really need to go back to Earth." Tears filled his eyes. "My brother's in the army too. You can't let him die."
"But the wedding…"
"No. If you marry me, you'll always have to stay here. If you go to Earth now, you can still come see me later. I love my brother too much to let him die without even trying to save him."
"Hephaestus, Earth will be okay. Your brother will be okay. My father is still watching over everybody."
"But everyone is still cold-hearted without you."
"Who told you about the prophecy?"
"I couldn't sleep. I was just pretending. I'm sorry for eavesdropping, but I was worried about you and…"
"Hephaestus, stop pretending. You obviously don't care about me anymore. If this is what you really want, I will leave," she said rigidly. She stormed away making it look like she was leaving. But she didn't. She hid for days in the Underworld where no one could see her.
Aphrodite was miserable in hiding. She was sore from sleeping on the stone. She was tired and hungry. Worst of all, she was scared. A man was walking towards her. She wasn't sure if she should be relieved or even more scared when she realized that it was Hephaestus.
"It's okay, I'm not mad. I probably would have done the same," he said as he noticed her body tighten.
Hephaestus was stronger, and his wounds were beginning to heal. His voice was more confident, but not the same way it was when Aphrodite met him. Hephaestus sat down next to her.
"I'm sorry I made you so mad…I was thinking about my brother, and I remembered something from when we were children. He's always been independent. He hated it when people worried about him like he couldn't take care of himself. He's still like that. I don't think he'd appreciate it if he found out I was trying to intervene. Maybe it would work out for both of us if we just let him be. So will you marry me…now?"
Aphrodite just threw her arms around him, tears of relief and joy rolling down her face. She was so happy, knowing that thing would turn out okay. Just like when Hephaestus proposed to her.
Aphrodite left for Hephaestus' house disgruntled. She wasn't supposed to be here. She had just been forbidden to see Hephaestus. She left anyway. Her spirits lifted a little at the thought of seeing Hephaestus again. She had been invited to his home for the evening meal.
When she reached his home, Hephaestus welcomed her and led her to the dining area. They sat at the small table. It was just the two of them. The rest of his family had already eaten. Aphrodite was enjoying her meal, but Hephaestus had only taken a few bites of his food.
When Aphrodite had finished eating, Hephaestus immediately stood up and said, "I'll take your plate for you."
"But you should finish eating first. You've only had several bites."
"It's okay. I'm not hungry."
Aphrodite was beginning to worry. "Is something wrong?" she asked.
Hephaestus was sweating as he dropped onto one knee. In his hand was a small box that had been beautifully decorated. He opened it and revealed the most gorgeous ring Aphrodite had ever seen. It was a slim gold ring with a modest but elegant gem in the center and several tiny gems on either side of it. Aphrodite gasped.
"Will you marry me?" he asked. The words seemed to replay over and over again in her mind. Aphrodite slowly nodded her head as she watched Hephaestus gently place the ring on her slender finger.
Everything seemed so distant, yet so real. Everything was so confusing, but at the same time, everything was crystal clear. All that she could think of was the wedding, Hephaestus, and how for one moment, her life was perfect.
The ceremony was very small. Aphrodite was overjoyed, but as she said, "I do," she knew that she would never leave the underworld. She didn't care. At least she would be with Hephaestus. Forever.
Poseidon found Zeus on Mount Olympus. Zeus noticed the sullen look on his face and asked, "What's wrong?" He was saved from having to answer when Hermes ran up to them and out of breath, he gasped, "Aphrodite's not coming back. She got married."
Zeus started screaming at Hermes. They usually respected each other, but Zeus was just taking out all his anger on Hermes. Hermes eventually ran off out of fear, and Zeus sat back down in his oversized chair.
"Zeus, I'm sorry. I loved Aphrodite. I'm too depressed to ride in the ocean. I haven't since she left."
"I guess it's okay; I know how you feel right now."
As they watched the war rage on, like they had for several days and would for eternity, they were both thinking the same thing. Aphrodite would always be missed. The world would always be violent. And the ocean would be red, stained with blood.