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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Love in the Age of Heroes: Ubiquitous Legends of Unrequited Love (5th Installment)

Part 5: Hera’s Humanity

When they arrived at the entrance to the shrine on Mount Ida, the sun had lingered behind the mountains, and the shadows had deepened in the woods. Cassandra wondered if the Mother Goddess would accept her offering. Then she looked at Eenoni leading the way, and felt sympathy for the heartache she had endured. How could my brother have turned his back on the unconditional love of a devoted and beautiful lover? Then Cassandra remembered how she had rejected the affections of Apollo.

      They followed Eenoni into the darkness of the cave, and within minutes they appeared before a statue of the Mother Goddess. She towered over them, and the vibrant lifelike colors in which She had been painted glowed against the fires that crackled in the braziers.

      Calchas approached, and beckoned Arisbe as he knelt before the goddess. The servant stooped beside the priest and handed him the pouch she carried. From it, he gathered herbs and other contents that were unknown to Cassandra and Coroebus, and they watched as he cast the contents into the brazier that sat in the center of the cave.

      Soon, they gathered and squatted around the fire. They watched as the herbs blazed up, then smoldered and flung out thick white clouds of aromatic smoke. Eenoni whispered unintelligibly as the priest urged Cassandra to inhale deeply, and focus her thoughts. The dry, sweet scent filled Cassandra’s nostrils, and she felt her head sway as the heat from the fire intensified.

      Cassandra opened her eyes, and saw the flames flicker with strange colors as they cast long dancing silhouettes against the jagged walls of the cave. Her companions faded into the soft shadows, and even the statue of the Mother Goddess had disappeared.

      The darkness deepened. Cassandra’s sight had been stolen, but she did not panic. There came the soft sound of footsteps and the rustle of robes that betrayed the stealth among the shadows. She felt an unfamiliar presence, but felt safe when a gentle voice echoed from the darkness.

      “You have traveled at great peril to your safety, Cassandra. Even I cannot shelter you from the dangers you will face.” Said the Mother Goddess.

      “Then you know why I am here?” Said Cassandra.

      “I know the reasons why you have come, but I fear that what you seek is beyond the scope of my power.”
      “Then how may I save my people?” Said Cassandra. “You are Hera, the Mother Goddess of my mother’s people. Would you turn away a daughter of Queen Hecuba?”

“It is not you that I deny, dear child, but it was your brother’s judgment that has caused you this grief.”

“What if I were to reveal a truth that has been hidden from you?” Said Cassandra.

“I am a goddess. There is nothing that remains hidden from me.” Said Hera.

“Then you know the truth about Helen of Sparta.”

“The one that is rumored to be as lovely as a goddess?” Said Hera.

“They say she is even lovelier than Aphrodite.” Said Cassandra.

“Do not insult me, child.” Hera warned. “Now, what is it that you wish to divulge?”

“It has been widely known that she is the daughter of Leda, the daughter of King Thestius, but the truth about her father has been kept secret by a divine veil to protect Leda from your wrath.” Said Cassandra.

“What secret?” Hera insisted.

Cassandra lowered her head, opened her thoughts, and revealed a vision to the Mother Goddess that Hecuba had shared with her.

They watched as Leda had risen from her bed, where her husband, King Tyndareus slept undisturbed. As usual after their intimacy, he had fallen into a deep slumber; he took no notice of her movements when she left the bed.

She threw a light article of clothing over her shoulders, and wandered out into the courtyard to gaze upon the stars. She looked to the heavens for a sign of her destiny, but only a thunderous silence echoed. A dark blanket stretched from horizon to horizon, and the stars twinkled like diamonds set by divine order when distant rumbling pierced the calm.

A gentle breeze caressed Leda; she watched as rolling clouds gathered and lightning flickered behind them. She felt the approach of a numinous entity, and waited for her fate to change.

A strange shiver washed over her when she felt the presence of a man standing behind her. At first, she thought it was her husband, King Tyndareus, until she felt the unfamiliar hands rest on her shoulders. He massaged her upper back, and caressed her arms as his lips gently kissed the back of her neck. Leda felt his breath in her ear when he whispered a secret and then teased her earlobe with his tongue.

Her knees wavered; but Zeus embraced her, so that she could feel his manhood throbbing behind her as he splayed his hands against her flesh so that his fingers brushed her nipples and desire scorched her. He made her face him, and he bent his head down to capture her lips with his.

Leda worried that her husband would wake and accuse her of infidelity, but somehow she knew that she wasn’t being unfaithful. She looked into the eyes of the stranger, and they were unlike any she had ever seen. Lightning flickered within them, and they swirled with a hint of silver when he smiled and gently kissed her again.

He grasped her tunic, along her hips, and his hands slid up along her waist to expose her secrets and caress her lightly between her legs. He lifted her and she wrapped her legs around his hips; a swift movement and she was open, throbbing and eager. Then Zeus was inside of her, and the lightning flickered above them, and the rumbling of thunder shook the Earth with the deep pounding rhythms of his touch.

“Enough!” Said Hera.

Cassandra sat in silence as the Mother Goddess contemplated the revelation.

“So, Helen of Sparta is the progeny of Zeus, and a mortal woman.” Said Hera. “And what punishment would you have me bestow on Helen?”

“None.” Said Cassandra.

“None?” Said Hera. “And why not?”

“Because none of this is Helen’s fault.” Said Cassandra.

“Ah, but that is where you are mistaken, dear child. For if Helen had never been born, then perhaps the lords of Greece would have never agreed to an alliance, because she would have never married Menelaus, and your brother would not have a prize to claim.”

“The Fates determine those outcomes.” Said Cassandra.

“If you do not want me to punish Helen, then why are you here?”

“Helen is not at fault for the actions of Zeus. Nor is Leda.” Said Cassandra.

“Leda knew with whom she was consorting, and she knew that I was his wife when she engaged in the act to betray me!”

“She fell victim to the seduction of Zeus. How could she, a mortal woman, possibly resist a god?” Said Cassandra.

“You did.” Said Hera.

Cassandra paused, and remembered Apollo, the son of Zeus, who professed his love for her, and even though she felt compelled to accept him into her heart, she turned him away.

      “That is why I am here.” Said Cassandra.

      Hera remained silent.

      “Apollo came to me and when he fell in love with me, he granted me the gift of prophecy. I did not ask for it, I did not want it, but he bestowed it upon me regardless of my reluctance. Later, when I confessed that I could not reciprocate his love, he grew furious, and cursed me. He said that since a god may not reclaim a gift, then he had no choice but to allow me to retain the power of foresight, however no one would ever believe me.”

      Hera knelt before Cassandra. And while she pitied the Trojan Princess, she seethed with jealousy at the mention of Apollo. She recalled her fury against Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, when her hidden beauty caught Zeus’ attention, and he seduced her in secret. Hera made every effort to prevent Leto from giving birth to her twins, Artemis and Apollo, and though she was powerless to prevent their births she had been determined to make Leto suffer.

      Now, she felt disquieted at the prospect that two of Zeus’ progeny, from his illicit affairs, were involved with the troubling events that threatened the fragile peace between Sparta and Troy.

      “I still do not see how I may be able to help?” Said Hera. “I cannot undo what Apollo has done, and even though I sympathize with your predicament, I am not inclined to prevent Paris from igniting a war.”

      “Why not?” Said Cassandra.

      “I am renown for my jealousy, and holding a grudge.” Said Hera. “Surely you wouldn’t expect me to betray my nature?”

      “But you are the Goddess of Marriage!” Pled Cassandra. “It is your duty to preserve the marriage of Helen and Menelaus. Even against the will of Aphrodite, and the desire of my brother.”

      “Do not speak to me about my duty, child!” Said Hera. “Besides, I have no bond with Helen that compels me to preserve her honor, and save her marriage. Not since she sought counsel when the many suitors had gone to Sparta for her hand in marriage, has she pled for my assistance.”

      Cassandra felt a tear race along her cheek.

      “No. I cannot help, and I will not interfere with the inevitable.” Said Hera. “Unless you have another request—“

      “I do!” Said Cassandra.

      Hera waited.

      “I wish to find Nyx, the Goddess of Night. Do you know how I may find her?”

      Hera contemplated Cassandra’s request. “You are relentless, aren’t you? Tell me. What do you hope you will accomplish by finding Nyx?”

      “Nyx is the mother of the Fates.” Said Cassandra.

      “And?” Hera said dismissively.

      “As the mother of the Fates, it is my intention to enlist her assistance with her daughter, Clotho.”

      “I’m curious, dear child. How do you intend to procure the benevolence of the Fates? They answer to no one, and are bound by their nature to ensure that everyone’s destiny is fulfilled.”

      “I will ask Clotho, who is responsible for controlling the major decisions in one’s life, to allow me to fall in love with Apollo.” Said Cassandra. “Perhaps then he may be compelled to lift the curse, and my people will heed my warnings and prepare for the war.”

      “It is exceedingly dangerous to manipulate destiny, dear child.” Hera warned.

      “I have no other option.” Said Cassandra. “I cannot ask Aphrodite, because I’m certain she wishes to fulfill her promise to Paris. I cannot turn to her son, Eros the god of love and desire, because his loyalty lies with her. I cannot stand by and do nothing. I must take this chance, regardless of the risk to my personal safety.”

      Hera pondered Cassandra’s predicament and instructed the mortal princess to look upon her.

      Cassandra opened her eyes, but still she could not see through the windows of her soul. Instead, she saw with the eye of her mind, and felt rather than saw, a luminous shadow rise before her. The radiance overwhelmed her consciousness, and it did her no good to shield her eyes with her hands.

      “You are not seeing me with your eyes, Cassandra, for it is not possible to look upon an Immortal in her or his true form.” Said Hera.

      “Then what is it that blinds me?” Said Cassandra.

      Soon there could be no doubt; Cassandra knew, the thought had been relayed as a whisper to her mind that only her soul could stand in the presence of a goddess in her true form. So incandescent was She that She imparted the impression of standing before the sun, and illuminated even the gloom that surrounded them.

      And when the veil of darkness had been shoved aside by Hera’s effulgent presence, Cassandra felt at peace. Hera motioned Cassandra to stand and the Mother Goddess admired the young mortal woman known as the second most beautiful woman in the world. Hera gazed into Cassandra’s bright blue eyes and apperceived her intelligent, charming, elegant and gentle nature. But beyond that, Hera recognized Cassandra’s determination, and decided to help in the only way her divine arrogance would permit.

      “Zeus does not yet know about your journey.” Said Hera. “He may soon learn that you came to me, and the dangers that lie ahead will magnify.”

      Cassandra remained silent.

      “Do you not see what is happening, dear child? These events are for gods and mortals alike the footsteps of doom. For if you fail, then Troy will fall. Yet if you succeed, then the power of the gods will be diminished, and it will not only be the end of the Age of Heroes, but it will be the end of the reign of the gods. And the tides of time shall sweep us away from the hearts and minds of mortals, slowly to be ignored and forgotten.”

      Hera leaned forward and gently kissed Cassandra’s crown, and unexpectedly the princess knew where her voyage would lead to next. A great light illuminated the cave then vanished and left all else dark, save for the small fires burning in the braziers. Cassandra stood before the statue of the Mother Goddess, gazing upon her lifelike image with wonder; for suddenly it seemed to her that she understood why the gods appeared in disguise.

      Her companions rose to their feet and hurriedly approached her. At length they explained that when she fell into a trance, an unseen force shoved them back before a mystical veil cascaded around her and the statue of Hera.

      “We heard everything, but we could not see either of you!” Said Eenoni.

      “I feared for your safety, my lady.” Said Arisbe.

      “By gods, I have never experienced anything so terrifyingly glorious!” Calchas interjected.

      Cassandra turned to Coroebus. He stood rooted, unable to withdraw his gaze. Cassandra searched his eyes and he searched hers, for they both knew with absolute certainty and terror that to achieve her objective, she would sacrifice her heart for a love she did not want, and as a consequence, he would have to do the same.

To be continued…

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