I stood with my girls on the edge of the park where Artemis told me to wait. She was nowhere in sight, so I sat down on a bench and sighed. Hate and Jealousy crowded in to have their ears scratched.
“Oh, be still, you two, sit down,” I chided them as I stared off into the distance. They obliged me by sitting, but continued to nip at one another for more attention.
“Why now?” I thought. “I have wanted her for thousands of years. Why now? Surely she has known my feelings? She just never acted on them in the past.”
I shook my head and kissed each of the girls on the top of the head.
“So why now?” the thought returned. It was not to be denied. That and the images of Estrella that kept flashing through my mind. Her naked body, her exotic tastes, for pure carnal pleasure, there was no doubt Estrella was the way to go.
“But you have loved Artemis since you were little more than a boy. Who was it that consoled you first after the disaster at Lamark? Artemis. Who was it that came and visited you in Hades, when even your own parents didn’t? Artemis. Even now, who is it who sits, relaxed and casual, whenever the chance happens and asks genuinely how you are doing? Still Artemis. Perhaps she has felt the same all along. As for sex, well, I have always known about her vow. She is a conundrum, the virginal Goddess of Fertility. Nana Hera once explained it to me that by abstaining, she was able to focus her blessings on her mortals who needed them.”
I sighed again. When I lifted them from rubbing the girls, my hands were trembling. I put them back down and kept scratching the wolves’ ears.
It wasn’t long before I saw her coming down a path with her beloved dragon. Both my girls whined and yipped as they caught the scent of their playmate Sayeh, who they just met the day before.
Artemis was wearing an almost sheer white dress that hung off one shoulder and went down to just above the knee. She also wore a pair of golden sandals. Her thick, lustrous hair was pulled back and revealed the delicate curve of her neck. She could be fierce. But usually, like now, she was a good-natured and relaxed goddess. She was always beautiful and confident. I examined her aura through my magical sunglasses. She was relaxed and bubbly.
“Dinlas,” she said as she gave me a hug, “I’m so glad we decided to do this.”
I nodded. “I am too, Artemis.” I paused for a moment and felt a cold nose on my hand.
“Oh yes, this is Hate, and this is Jealousy.”
Artemis smiled and pointed to her dragon.
“Well, you’ve met Sayeh. If we see any mortals, then she just looks like a golden retriever dog to them.”
“She is even more beautiful out here in the sunlight,” I replied as I admired her shimmer.
Artemis smiled, then knelt down and tousled my girls’ heads. They both threw themselves at her, licking and nuzzling for attention.
“No one,” I thought, “has ever gotten anything but a growl from them. She truly is the Goddess of the Wild.”
Artemis laughed and stood after a minute or two. She realized these two never got enough attention.
“Such beautiful girls,” she said as she admired them. “Why do they have such angry names?”
I smiled. “I don’t know, Art. I guess when I got them all those years ago, I didn’t think people would be sufficiently afraid if I named them Fi-Fi and Trixie.”
Artemis motioned for me to start walking with her, then asked, “Do you mind if we walk before dinner? I find it helps stimulate the appetite.”
“Not at all. I enjoy our time together.”
She smiled. “So, your girls…their names…do you still feel that’s what you need? To be feared?”
I studied her face for a moment, then answered. “I…I don’t know what I need anymore, Art. I guess I’ve been so full of rage for so long it’s…” I trailed off.
“It’s what?” she persisted.
I shrugged. “It’s comfortable. It’s uncomfortably comfortable. My years of anger, rage, vengeance, it’s all taken a substantial toll on me. Like the fire from your Sayeh, it has burned, cauterized, and scoured every emotion out of me. All but one.”
She turned to look at me and raised an eyebrow. “And what one is that?”
I could see through my glasses. Her mood suddenly shifted to desire.
I looked away from her as we continued deeper into the park.
“I think you know which one.”
She grabbed my arm to both stop me, and spin me around to face her. I was pulled forward by my shoulder. She then raised up on her toes. Our faces were inches apart for just a second as we stared into each other’s eyes. As she exhaled, I could feel and smell her sweet breath in my face. Then she kissed me. She kissed me tenderly on the mouth. I thought my legs would buckle, like back at the warehouse yesterday. After a minute, I pulled back. She looked at me in a peculiar way and dropped back down off her toes.
“Dinlas? Is something wrong?”
I shook my head as my face scrunched up funny. I had a weird feeling, a feeling I hadn’t had in thousands of years. I felt joy and pleasure. It was enough to almost make me cry.
“No,” I said as I rubbed my eyes, “nothing is in any way wrong. But I just don’t understand what is happening here. I don’t understand why. Why now?”
Artemis shrugged and put her hands palm up. She then let them drop down to her sides, but never answered.
We walked deeper into the park.
I could hear a roaring noise ahead of us. Artemis had long since moved us off the beaten path that tourists take, and we were following a game trail through dense woods. The roaring was getting louder. We suddenly popped out of the heavy canopy. It was beautiful.
On our right, we had been following a jagged cliff that rose several hundred feet above us. Where the trees parted, we arrived at a clearing with a waterfall that towered above our heads. The water fell in a thin ribbon from the edge of the cliff. Individual water droplets pulled and resisted from the main column to fly and careen in mist and spray as the water fell from its channel high above. For the most part, these rebellious efforts were for naught, as the giant pool at the bottom collected the entire volume together again. Through the swirling, falling droplets, the sunset shone golden and fiery. Every drop of water and every wave of mist shimmered in a thousand different colors and reflections. As if there were no waterfall, and instead a mighty titan stood on the cliff casting precious stones to fall, float, and catch the sunlight in an infinite number of colors and dazzling patterns. I stood breathless and imagined the roar of water was instead the laughter from the benevolent titan above.
Artemis wrapped her hands around my arm and laid her head on my shoulder. “This is my favorite place to go in the evening. It is so beautiful.”
My tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth. After a moment’s struggle I turned, looked into her eyes, and replied.
“It is the second most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Artemis blushed and smiled. “Come, the sun is sinking, and I want to show you more inside.”
“Yes. See here? This is one of Sayeh’s caves. She has her main cave she stays at, but there are several others she can move around to when needed.” She led me on wet rocks behind the curtain of water to the cave entrance.
“Be careful,” she cautioned at one point, “these rocks are slippery.”
I watched where she pointed and soon enough, we were standing in a decent sized, but rather unassuming cave. It was big enough for Sayeh to be comfortable, but not much beyond that.
Artemis’ eyes twinkled. “You’re wondering why I insisted on coming in here, when it is so beautiful outside?”
I didn’t want to break the mood so I just nodded. She took me by the hand and pulled me to the back of the cave.
“Sayeh, keep Hate and Jealousy company. Girls, you wait here.” I looked over my shoulder, stunned. My girls only took orders from me, yet both laid down on Art’s command and didn’t move.“Look,” she said as she brought my eyes back forward. In front of us was a boulder that had a narrow crease behind it. Artemis sucked in a breath and squeezed in behind the rock. As she disappeared into the darkness of the crevice she turned and looked back.
“Follow me…” she exhaled softly.
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