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Authors: Lanette Curington

Immortal Heat

BOOK: Immortal Heat
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Immortal Heat

 

 ©Lanette Curington, 2002

I

 

  

 

 On Mount Olympus, Charis Aglaia hastened through the misty aether toward the palace of Aphrodite. A dove had delivered an urgent summons from the goddess of love just before dawn, and Aglaia had dressed quickly, not even taking the time to put up her hair. The red-gold tresses, shimmering with the colors of a radiant sunset, cascaded across her shoulders and down her back.

 

 Aglaia was one of three sisters who were the Charites, goddesses of grace who served as Aphrodite's attendants. And because Zeus was their father, they were half-sisters to Aphrodite as well. Aglaia had been appointed her personal messenger and was occasionally sent on errands if the goddess of love was otherwise engaged. She enjoyed helping Aphrodite when she was called upon, and while she felt the immortals should interfere as little as possible with the lives of mortals, she enjoyed being among them for a time.

 

 Of course, she was always happy to return home to Mount Olympus when a task was successfully completed.

 

 The gate to the rose garden was open, and Aglaia dashed in to find Aphrodite seated on a marble bench. She wore a troubled expression, her silver-blue eyes brimming with tears and her bright golden curls in tumbled disarray.

 

 "Oh, Aglaia, I'm so glad you're here!" Aphrodite's voice trembled with emotion. "Princess Tebris of Lemnos is to be married to an Achaean prince."

 

 Aglaia didn't know the princess personally. Aphrodite wouldn't summon her just to announce a successful betrothal, and she certainly wouldn't be overwrought by it. "Who is the fortunate prince?"

 

 "It doesn't matter because she doesn't love him!" Aphrodite wailed and burst into tears.

 

 Aglaia rushed to her side through a flutter of rose petals. The garden overflowed with blossoms of every color imaginable, and when Aphrodite was distraught over a love gone wrong, the roses shed their petals in empathy. Aglaia brushed petals from the marble bench and sat beside Aphrodite, placing an arm around her shaking shoulders.

 

 "Nobles never marry for love," Aglaia reminded her. "It's always politically or financially advantageous to one family or the other—or both."

 

 "I know and it's horrid, just horrid! Why can't everyone believe in love?" Aphrodite covered her face with both hands and wept.

 

 The goddess of love knew firsthand that the course of love never ran smoothly, but she blithely insisted love was the answer to everything. Zeus had arranged her marriage to Hephaestus, although Aphrodite had never loved him. Then she began a torrid affair with the god of war. When Hephaestus discovered the lovers, Aphrodite was unable to cope with the public humiliation, ending the affair with Ares and her marriage to Hephaestus at the same time.

 

 "Dear sister," Aglaia murmured soothingly and patted her arm in comfort. "Some do believe in love, but sometimes love doesn't find those who believe."

 

 Aglaia frowned, unsure whether she was now talking about the mortals or herself. Although Aglaia had had several lovers among the immortals, her affairs had ended insignificantly by their own lack of impetus.

 

 Gentle Himerus, god of longing, had left her yearning for more, and brooding Moros, god of doom, had left her bereft of hope for the relationship. While Aglaia admitted that she hadn't been in love with either, she was still fond of them both.

 

 In truth, Aglaia had never been in love at all. While she might look askance at Aphrodite's tempestuous love life, she was envious of it at the same time. She wished she had Aphrodite's capacity to love freely and allow herself to be consumed by passion no matter the cost or consequence.

 

 Aphrodite uncovered her face and looked at Aglaia, her silvery blue eyes shining with tears. "Aglaia, you simply must go to Lemnos for me," she cajoled. "I am in the midst of taking care of a delicate situation or I would go. Please say you will!"

 

 Aglaia was bound to do Aphrodite's bidding, but she appreciated that Aphrodite made it sound as if she had a choice. She smiled and wiped away the tear streaks on her sister's face. "Of course I'll go, sister, but I don't know what you want me to do. Perhaps the princess is content to marry this Achaean prince even if she doesn't love him."

 

 "Oh, no, she isn't!" Aphrodite protested. "I haven't told you the most important part. Tebris is in love with another man."

 

 Aphrodite burst into fresh tears, and Aglaia patted her arm once more. "That does complicate matters."

 

 "It gets worse," Aphrodite said through her tears. "She's in love with the prince's brother!"

 

  

 

 * * * * *

 

 "I can't marry him. I won't!" Princess Tebris shouted as soon as Aglaia closed the door to one of the palace's smaller rooms.

 

 Tebris' cousin Cydippe had joined them, but she stopped short, her eyes widening in shock at the outburst.

 

 Aglaia sighed. As soon as Aphrodite had calmed down and the roses had stopped shedding, she had sent Aglaia to Lemnos. Aglaia was always embarrassed when Aphrodite or one of the other immortals had to aetherize her to her destination. She could aetherize short distances if she concentrated hard enough, but she had no sense of direction and was always afraid she would reappear inside a rock or wall or even a mortal! Aphrodite had no such problems, and Aglaia had arrived safely.

 

 Aglaia was readily accepted as a distant relative here to attend the wedding. Indeed, she really was a distant cousin. Tebris' and Cydippe's fathers were brothers, and their ancestry included an immortal or two, but Aglaia hadn't taken the time to study the lineage. Now, Tebris' tirade reminded her of Aphrodite's emotional outbursts.

 

 Is that what true love does to you?Aglaia wondered. She wanted love and passion, but did she want to chance the heartache that often accompanied it?

 

 "Prince Oileus is vile and arrogant and
fat
," Tebris continued. "How can I ever bear to have him touch me?"

 

 Cydippe gasped. "Y-You can't mean it, Tebris! I mean, the wedding is only a week away. Everyone is here or soon will be. They brought gifts and the wedding games have begun."

 

 "They can take the gifts back," Tebris said, her brown eyes sparkling with defiance. "And who cares about the games? This wedding is about the rest of my life! I don't want to spend it with Oileus. Oh, Aglaia, whatever am I going to do?"

 

 The sparkle of defiance dissolved to be replaced with despair. Tebris and Cydippe had eagerly accepted Aglaia as a friend and confidant. Cydippe's mother was dead, and Queen Eupompe was a calculating woman who showed no warmth toward anyone, not even her own daughter Tebris. In appearance, Aglaia looked only a few years older than the cousins, and a natural rapport had developed between them in the fortnight she had been on the isle of Lemnos. Starved for guidance and support, the younger women naturally confided in Aglaia when she displayed a genuine interest in them and their needs.

 

 "No, Aglaia, you must talk sense into her!" Cydippe insisted. "The arrangements have been made, guests are here and more arriving every day. I told her to take a stand months ago, but it's too late now."

 

 Aglaia gathered a cousin in each arm. She was always the stalwart one, always comforting and consoling. She mediated the emotional upsets of her sisters, and soothed Aphrodite's ruffled feathers, and now she played arbitrator between the cousins.

 

 "Now, Cydippe, you don't want Tebris to be unhappy, do you?" Aglaia asked gently.

 

 "Of course not! But she should have taken care of this long ago, when Aunt Eupompe brought this up the first time. I know Aunt Eupompe can be a bit overbearing, but you just can't back out now!" she finished heatedly to Tebris.

 

 "What do you care?" Tebris asked. "No disgrace will reflect on you."

 

 "It's not that. It's—" Cydippe's face flushed crimson. "Oh, never mind!"

 

 Cydippe was trying to protect Oileus' reputation. Aglaia had spent her time on Lemnos in close observation of the four young people. Prince Oileus wasn't as odious as Tebris claimed. He was stouter than his brother Dameon, and more outspoken but never domineering or pompous.

 

 The younger prince, Dameon, hovered in the background with Cydippe, their existence eclipsed by the betrothed pair. Dameon couldn't take his eyes off Tebris, and the princess glanced his way when she thought no one would notice. Likewise, Cydippe watched Oileus with stars in her eyes, and Oileus' gaze slipped her way now and again.

 

 "Have you spoken to your father?" Aglaia asked Tebris.

 

 "I tried, but he does whatever Mother says. I did bring it up with Mother, several times, but she won't listen to me." Tears spilled down Tebris' cheeks.

 

 "Have you offered her an alternative?" Aglaia suggested.

 

 Tebris backed away from Aglaia. Her eyes grew large, and she wore a stricken look as if she had been caught stealing the last honey cake.

 

 "I don't know what you mean. Mother has her heart set on me marrying the crown prince. My brother will be king of Lemnos one day, and she wants me to be a queen. There is no alternative!"

 

 Tebris turned, swung open the door, and ran from the room.

 

 "Prince Oileus isn't
fat
," Cydippe said quietly, her blue eyes shiny with unshed tears. "He's stocky. And he isn't arrogant, he's assertive. And there isn't anything vile about him at all," she finished before she departed, leaving Aglaia all alone.

 

  

 

 * * * * *

 

 The first course of action, Aglaia decided, was to talk to Queen Eupompe. The queen was regal and in command while King Euneus, an ever-present cup of strong wine in his hand, allowed his wife total control in all things. Perhaps Eupompe, in her eagerness to make her daughter a queen, didn't realize how truly unhappy Tebris was. Perhaps...but Aglaia suspected the queen knew and didn't care.

 

 Aglaia requested an audience with Queen Eupompe and was directed to her working room. Located beside the king and queen's bedchamber, the spacious room was where the queen went about her weaving and sewing and other daily tasks. Queen Eupompe was very tall and matronly, her black hair showing streaks of silver as it swept up into the fillet at the back of her head. She seated herself on a pillowed couch, and motioned for Aglaia to sit on an uncomfortable backless tripod.

 

 "Lady Aglaia," the queen said politely and smiled, although neither the politeness nor the smile quite reached her hard brown eyes. "We're so happy you could join us for this joyous occasion. Now, please refresh my memory on how you are related to my husband."

 

 "Through his father," Aglaia said vaguely and wished she had taken the time to decipher the king's lineage.

 

 "Oh,
Jason
," Queen Eupompe said, her face turning hard as stone. "You do know what he did to Euneus' mother, don't you?"

 

 "Yes, I know the story. It's a scandal in my family as well," Aglaia said, hoping to build some sort of camaraderie between them.

 

 The crew of the Argo, in their search for the Golden Fleece, had stopped at Lemnos to replenish their supplies. They found the island inhabited by only women who had killed off their men for taking Thracian wives. The crew, weary from their adventures, found the Lemnian women a delightful respite.

 

 Jason, their leader, consorted with the queen, Hypsipyle, but after a time decided to move on and finish his quest. Hypsipyle had given birth to twins—Euneus, now Eupompe's husband and Tebris' father, and Nebrophonus, Cydippe's father.

 

 After finding the Golden Fleece in Colchis, Jason married the Colchian princess Medea and brought her back to Hellas, forsaking Hypsipyle. He eventually discarded Medea for a princess in Corinth and a tragic end, but he had never returned to Lemnos.

 

 Yet another example of true love gone wrong. Which princess, if any, had Jason truly loved? And what of the women—Hypsipyle, Medea, and Glauce? They had loved him passionately, but suffered for their love. Did Aglaia truly want a tempestuous romance rife with uncertainty? One thing she was certain of, she wanted
passion.

 

 After the queen had finished declaring her distaste with the faithless Jason, Aglaia decided it was time to broach the subject of the princess' wedding.

 

 "I know I'm a stranger to you, but Princess Tebris and I have become quite close since my arrival," Aglaia began. "Tebris has expressed her unhappiness with her betrothal to Prince Oileus."

 

 The queen's eyes narrowed in suspicion but she said nothing. Aglaia took a deep breath and continued.

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