February 2, 2019

ARROWS by Sarah Deeming

She was a goddess and her
wild fragrance warmed him...
They walked the water’s edge, the waves washing away their footsteps. The sun god was silent, something Orion was grateful for. Apollo liked to boast about his accomplishments, and Orion was incapable of leaving him unanswered. For every story Apollo had, Orion had his own which he felt were equally comparable.

Artemis told him to ignore her brother. Let Apollo talk, what did it matter? Talking and actions were two different things. Besides, her nymphs weren’t interested in Apollo or Orion, so their arguments were wasted. For all of Artemis’s intelligence, she was ignorant about some things.

Who wanted to impress a nymph when there was a goddess?

Apollo knew how Orion felt, or at least, Orion suspected he did. Apollo’s boasts were to demonstrate how no mere mortal was good enough for her. But Orion could play that game too, for Artemis was a strong and independent female, not another mouthpiece for her brother like the Oracle. The more Orion treated her with respect, the more she turned to him. Orion had learnt from those fools who had loved his goddess before him. The last who had tried she had turned into a hart and set her dogs on him.

Never objectify a goddess.

Apollo took a deep breath and stopped, looking out over the water.

“Are you a good swimmer?” he asked so quietly Orion wasn’t sure the god was talking to him until Apollo turned to face him.

“Yes,” Orion replied.  Simple responses were the best for dealing with Apollo.

“I suppose being the son of Poseidon helps.”

Orion bit back a hundred stories of his aquatic accomplishments. He wouldn’t let Apollo bait him.

Not today.

Last night by the fire, after the day’s kill had been roasted and all had eaten their fill, the nymphs had played their instruments and retold stories through dance. Artemis had sat beside him and had leaned against him as the night drew on, her wild fragrance warming him more than any mere fire could. She was a goddess, she didn’t feel cold or tired, so why had she done this? Orion believed, hoped beyond all reasonable hope, that this goddess he had given up his old life for was beginning to see him as more than just a hunting companion.

“How fast can you swim?” Apollo asked.

“Fast enough.”

“Shall we find out? Arte could be forever, we both know timekeeping isn’t a characteristic of hers.” Apollo unslung his bow from its quiver and strung it. “I’ll fire two arrows into the sea and we each have to get one. You can go first.”

“How will we time each other?” Orion asked. There would be some catch which would mean Apollo came out on top.

“Helios.” Apollo gestured up towards the god in his chariot roaming across the sky. “He sees all, he can time us. Or the sea, since it will know how long it has had to tolerate us in it. You choose.”

“The sea,” Orion said, removing his quiver and sandals.

Apollo loosed two arrows one after the other in quick succession.

“How do we know they’re next to each other?” Orion asked. “One could be closer to the other.”

Apollo raised one eyebrow in a manner reminiscent of Artemis when someone questioned her skill with a bow. Orion hastened into the water.

It was like coming home to an old friend. The waves greeted him joyfully, the mortal son of their godking. They buoyed him along, calming in rougher areas, remaining warm so his limbs did not cramp. Adrenaline kicked in. When he returned Artemis would be on the beach and she would see how superior a mortal he was, one capable of beating a god. She would listen to him, not Apollo. She would recognise Orion as…

An arrow through his head obliterated his next thought.

The waves swallowed Orion's body.
Artemis skipped down the sand dunes, hopping from peak to peak, with sure feet until she came to the place where Apollo stood, looking out to sea.

“You’re late,” Apollo said.

“And you’re not where we agreed to meet.”

“I got tired of waiting.”

“Isn’t Orion with you?” she asked.

Apollo shrugged. “I don’t keep tabs on your human dog.”

“Be nice. He’s a good hunter.”

“Is that what you tell him while you’re rubbing his belly in the evening?”

Artemis rolled her eyes. Apollo’s protective brother act was no longer amusing. She just wanted to hunt and spend time with her friends by the fire afterwards, but Apollo was spoiling it. Maybe a year or so without an invite to her hunt would remind him he could speak with her but not for her.

“I sent him for my bow and arrows,” Apollo said still staring out to sea. “I. I made a mistake.”

“Could you repeat that?” Artemis teased.

“Orion and I came across a mortal as we walked. He panicked when he saw us, and I knew. He was the one who forced himself on your nymph some weeks. He fled into the sea. But we’d left our weapons where we had agreed to meet you, so I sent Orion back to get them while I kept an eye on the mortal.”

Cold fury descended on Artemis. Her nymph had fought the human, but he had been stronger and overwhelmed her, ignoring her demands for him to stop.

Choice was a sacred thing. That any male thought they had the right to ignore the choice of a female, her right to turn them down, simply because they were a man or a god, angered her.

The underworld was too good for them.

“Where?” Artemis asked, unslinging her bow.

Apollo pointed. A dark speck floated in the water. A head bobbing up and down.

She calmed her mind, calmed her anger and took aim.

She loosed her arrow and watched the mortal sink beneath the waves.

Bending, Artemis put her hands into the water and asked the waves to bring back the body.
Then she thought of Orion. She would impress him with this story. That she was the goddess of the hunt and could make any shot she wanted wouldn’t matter. She liked the way he spoke to her, genuine and a little fearful, never forgetting what she was. He didn’t take liberates with her. Didn’t speak for her. Inviting him to join her company was a risk that had worked well.

Her self-congratulations died when the waves returned with their bounty. She would recognize that face, the shape of his body, his broad shoulders and narrow hips from any distance. The tunic she had given him. That mane of chestnut hair tangled and matted with blood. She knew her arrow no matter what head it protruded from.

Eternity stretched in front of her, a punishment of never hearing Orion’s voice again. Never hearing the teasing way he called her “my goddess” or the frustrating way he fell for Apollo’s baiting every time. Never trusting her back to him, confident he would protect her. Never feel his warmth as they sat together, sharing silence and.

And.

Artemis realized what she had lost.

“No!” she screamed, pulling Orion’s head on her lap. “No. Please. No. Say my name. Please. Just one more time.”
Apollo stood by his sister as Zeus set Orion’s body in the stars.

She had accepted his explanation that Orion must have chased after the fleeing mortal instead of getting his weapons as Apollo had asked. Watching her take responsibility for his lies hurt Apollo almost as much as her grief.

Not for the first time he questioned his choice. Was her pain worth what he had sought to protect her from? He loved her, not as Orion had loved her, as her brother he could never do that. He could never give her the companionship Orion could have, and yet that companionship wasn’t what she needed.

His sister was wild and free, impulsive, spontaneous. Orion would have changed that. He would have altered Artemis at her fundamental core. Taken away some of her independence and Apollo couldn’t let that happen. If he was order, she was chaos, and the world needed her as she was as much as it needed him. Her pain would lessen, of that he was certain, time healed everything. Even the pain of lost love.
Sarah Deeming lives in Cheshire, England. She’s a book reviewer and writer of short stories. Her work has appeared in anthologies and magazines around the world included Enchanted Conversation and Timeless Tales. When she isn’t lost in a story, she can always be found on Twitter @SarahLDeeming

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

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