(c) 2013 Amanda M. Hayes
“You want to spare her, my dear?” Venus slipped a plump grape between her lips. Her teeth stripped off its dusky skin. “Even after she betrayed your trust? If she means so much to you, I wonder that you left her.”
Cupid felt the heat of his mother’s eyes–for him, a different heat than they held for most men. The young god dragged his attention from the vision of Psyche and the golden rams. Psyche weeping. Psyche hurting. Sometimes, he thought, I wonder too. He had more sense than to say it in front of Venus.
Instead he said, “There’s no point to this.” He gestured at the sheep and their wicked horns. “You’ve told her, ‘Do these things, and you’ll see him again.’ You forgot to ask whether I want to see her.”
Venus said, “I assumed you would. She’s such a lovely girl.”
“She did betray me.” Cupid tightened his fingers on the arms of his chair. His throne: it pleased Venus to play the part of a queen that day, though she might be a shepherdess or siren of the waves tomorrow. They both wore gilded laurel in their hair. “That’s made her less beautiful to me than she once was.”
Venus murmured, “Has it,” and bit another grape. “You wouldn’t mind if she fell in love with someone else?”
“She doesn’t deserve the grace.”
Venus’s laughter pealed. “My son! I almost believe you. Yet isn’t love a crueler torment than sorting grains or shearing sheep?” She smiled; her mouth was red as wine. “If you set her heart on another man as I once asked you to do, I promise to leave her in peace. Though this time he should be the right sort of man for her.”
He supposed, “Ugly, then. Brutal, poor, crass, bestial….”
“Just so,” Venus said. “Appropriate. You never were, my darling.”
Cupid left his mother’s palace and flew with his arrows to the riverbank, and he arrived in time to see Psyche solve the riddle of the fleece. Invisible, he watched her gather brilliant strands from the briars growing all around. Her smile gleamed brighter than any of them. Her midnight-sky eyes–he couldn’t imagine why they should be full with light while she slaved for his mother, but the sight made his heart cramp anew.
Psyche got away with her burden before he recalled his task. But he needed to find a suitable man first, anyway. That meant a man as mean and grotesque as Psyche was beautiful, if he wanted Venus to keep her word. Cupid chose a murderer, thief, and rapist of low birth who was not, perhaps, completely hideous in feature, but he thought his mother would be satisfied nonetheless. And he… he would not be satisfied, but his wretched affair would be over.
Cupid alighted on a stone at the mouth of the River Styx; Psyche was there with a bottle, pacing the ground beyond the rocks. He sensed his mother’s hand in this. His erstwhile wife was completely unaware of his presence, or so he believed until the third glance she threw toward his particular rock, as though she sensed something–drawn to him still even when she couldn’t see him, or was that only his fancy?
How brave and determined she was. He missed those qualities far more than her beauty. Venus ought to understand, but the goddess had blind spots. One swift shot, and he would fly Psyche to the cave where he’d stashed her future mate, and she would be distanced from Love’s jealousy. Even the worst of men couldn’t be so cruel.
Cupid pulled back his bowstring.
An eagle called from above just then, and the proud bird stooped to Psyche’s hand. It claimed the bottle and flew it to the river; its feathers brushed against Cupid’s wing. The eagle filled the bottle with water from the Styx. When it brought this prize back to Psyche, her face outshone all his golden arrows, aglow with delight for another task done: another hope of seeing her lover again.
She left on foot. Cupid slid the unspent arrow into his quiver.
If I ever loved her, he thought, I ought to have shot her. Because he still loved her, he couldn’t. He would find another way to spare her pain.
He flew away, leaving his gilded laurels behind to break apart in the water.