Disclaimer: Till We Have Faces belongs to C. S. Lewis.
The legend of Cupid and Psyche belongs to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
It has been so long since I began this journey at the command of my goddess, since I have heard another human voice or received any comfort or reassurance.
Every step brings me fresh agony of body and soul. For each carries me further from the two I love best.
Orual, my strong, passionate, and loving sister. She who held and cared for me during my first hours of life, after my mother had been led away by the hand of death.
From the first she lavished her affection upon me, was mother father and sister to me though our father resided under the same roof.
But deeper still runs the pain of loss and rejection, the knowledge that though Orual planned my ruin it was I who broke the one law my beloved gave me.
How cruel the fates are, to bring about my exile by the hand of my dear sister, condemning me to this oppressive darkness born of torments too deep for words to express.
Even my friend the Fox would be challenged by such an endeavor, for there are no words in any language of earth or the heavens that could convey the pain of my existence.
I long for the fleeting moments of joy shared with my sister, the hours spent in learning from The Fox, and the times where I could revel in life without fear of our father's condemnation.
But above all I long for the presence of my Lord, my beloved, the one who lead me out of the darkness of Glome into the glorious revelation of his passion for my soul.
I have passed beyond the broken sobs of regret and self recrimination, into a realm of sorrow so deep and endless that if I wept for a thousand lifetimes it would never be enough to express my grief.
I am condemned to traverse the mortal world, tormented by the folly of my choices, and the bitter sweet memories of my beloved.
It was here the priest had tied me to an oak, a sacrifice to the god of the mountain. Yet I had felt no fear, only a strange inexplicable joy, the joy of a bride eager for the embrace of her husband.
I recall how my groom's messenger had come, and carried me a willing sacrifice to the doors of my golden palace.
How I welcomed the days, when I could explore the delights of the palace he had built for me, and speak to the invisible servants desiring to learn more of my nameless groom.
I recall the wonder and glory of our joining, where I recklessly cast fear aside to revel in the glory of his presence.
And always about me was the darkness, mysterious, impenetrable and holy. He taught me so much during the deep hours of the night, lessons of love, trust and wisdom I eagerly devoured.
I learned to welcome the coming of night, for in that moment when darkness covered the valley I knew my lover was near. I would await his coming within the pillared courtyard, filled with joy and expectation of the approaching night.
The darkness would be shattered, the world about me tremble in awe and reverence, as my Lord, my friend, and husband drew near.
Then the darkness would return, still deep and unfathomable, but somehow gentle and welcoming as it engulfed the valley I now called my home.
While I felt a deep shame and inadequacy because I was a mortal being, he treasured me for those very reasons. He spoke of the joy he took in my simple faith and deepening affection, of how I must not fear the sacred, but learn to embrace it in all its aspects.
If only Orual had tried to learn those truths, not been bound by the mortal horror of the unknown and the divine, learned to see with the eyes of faith instead of the cool assessing gaze of those bound by logic.
I know the choice to cast aside all one has been taught, to dare to trust in the unseen is one of the hardest a mortal can make. For when I sat in Glome's dungeon, in those lonely hours before my sister came to comfort me, I made that choice. It gave me the strength to endure, to offer what hope and solace I could to my mourning sister, and filled me with a strange mix of anticipation and a deep unquenchable joy.
He told me of my sister's coming long before she reached the river. Yet he also warned me, that she would not have the eyes to see all he had prepared for me, that our meeting might not be as joyous as I hoped.
Still I prepared to welcome Orual, in the hopes that this prediction might not be proven right.
I will never forget her first visit, where my joy turned to shock as I realized that my lord had spoken truly when he said she would not be able to see my palace and all it contained.
Nor did she receive my tale in the way I would have thought. There was no relief or curiosity in her face when I had finished my account, only a strange expression of horror and revulsion.
And I knew then that nothing could shake her from the conviction that I was either mad, or had wed some terrible beast or lecherous beggar.
So I implored my lover when he next came to gift my beloved sister with the faith and courage to see all he had given me. His answer puzzled me, for he said that much would have to come to pass before that which I longed for could happen; that Orual was not ready as I had been to take that step of faith.
Even now I can only hold fast to my lover's words of gentle reassurance, that Orual will some day gaze upon the splendor of the gods with me at her side, be able to partake of the eternal joys I am only now beginning to understand without fear or hesitation.
You who know my story will already be acquainted with what happened next. Of how Orual persuaded me to break my lover's command, that I was never to see his face. How I foolishly heeded her words and am now paying for my lack of trust.
But far worse than the knowledge of my treachery was the voice of my beloved, raised against me in sorrow and anger that I had ignored his sacred command. The implacable rejection as he cast me from his presence, condemned to exile until I had fulfilled the tasks the gods demanded in return for my disobedience.
Ah how the fates torment me, for they have given me into the hands of my enemy, ordered me to serve her as a slave until my tasks are done.
The first is not so harsh, for I receive help from the creatures of the earth.
The second is more dangerous, for I am commanded to pluck wool from the sacred rams of the gods. Yet even as I hesitate in my task, I realize that there is a way for me to fulfill my mission. For as the herd thunders past I glimpse the golden strands of wool caught on the bushes.
I take what is necessary for my task and continue on, full of the joy only my lord can bestow. Even in the midst of this exile, I feel him near, longing to aid but held back by the laws of heaven. I draw strength from that knowledge and continue on, towards my third and final task.
I know it will be the hardest yet, as I descend into the realm of death, seeking beauty from the queen of shadows. For I had help in the others, could endure them knowing that my beloved would not forsake me, and that all this was not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my dear sister.
Yet now I walk alone, the withdrawal of my Lord's presence a fresh grief to my soul. Oh he is still there, awaiting the outcome of my final test, but I know he has been ordered not to interfere.
I continue my descent, anxious and troubled in spirit, knowing that this test will require all of my meager strength and fortitude if I am to emerge victorious.
They are suddenly all around me, specters of the dead clamoring for my attention. Faces young and old emerge from the darkness, and I realize that all in this vast crowd are the dead of Glome, come to petition me for aid.
Their voices rise in one agonized cry, asking me to intercede on their behalf to the gods, that they would worship and offer me sacrifices if only I would hear their plea for help.
I turn away, sorrowful but knowing now what my final task is. Whatever I see or hear, I must summon the strength to resist, harden my heart to whatever lies ahead.
Next is my mentor and friend the fox, earnestly begging me to leave this darkness and follow him. For a moment I falter, love for a friend urging me to listen, but at last I walk on, sick at heart at what I have just done.
Orual is my final test. And gods, she speaks to me in a voice filled with such passion, sorrow and love that I cannot help taking a step towards her form. Something within me tells me that this is not my Orual, for she would not knowingly lead me to destruction.
Before, she had acted out of a possessive and twisted love, born of fear and the desire to keep me from danger. No longer did I blame her for her part in my exile, for during this time of wandering I've had much time to reflect, to realize that she too is but a mortal helpless against the course of destiny.
Even stronger than that knowledge is the promise of my lover, that we will both stand together one day to witness the glory of the gods.
In that knowledge I ignore her entreaties and retrace my steps, coming at last to the entrance which leads to the mortal world.
From there I continue to walk, but with renewed strength of purpose, and a joy beyond expression. For now I know that my Lord has not forsaken me in my exile from his presence. I realize that the gods somehow intended all that has occurred for the purpose of revealing their mark upon my life and that of my beloved sister.
Now in the fullness of their time I will join my beloved, as the fates have decreed from the moment of the weaving of my thread. But I will not be alone, for Orual will also be granted immortality.
Our destinies are so closely woven together, strengthened by our devotion and affection that I know there could be no other ending to our part in the tapestry of the universe.
All I must do now is await her coming, and the arrival of the god whose face I shall finally behold.
Note from the authoress: I adore C. S. Lewis's stories and his novel Till We Have Faces is my favorite of his works.
It's such a rich and intriguing retelling of the classical legend of Cupid and Psyche, so full of philosophical, theological and psychological content that I just couldn't resist writing a short fiction about the sufferings of Orual and Psyche.
I know Orual's perspective is the focus of the novel, but hopefully this short story will be a refreshing and interesting look at the suffering these two sisters endured.
Also in case anyone is wondering about the chapter title, Psyche is also referred to as Istra throughout the novel.
I hope you enjoy this story, as always feedback is welcome.
Thanks for reading.