Story: Artemis and Orion
Kristy Herbeck’s story is an honorable mention for the Artemis and Orion contest (October 2015). To see the original contest specifications, click here. To see the winner and other honorable mentions, click here.
This story is sultry, dark, and true to the myth and the characters involved . . . with a few twists that I didn’t see coming, but worked so well! I love that Artemis is aware of the consequences of her actions (but not the form they will take), and proceeds with them anyway. I also love Apollo’s arrogance. Thanks for sharing Kristy!
Her joy is venom in my veins. I feel it as if it were my own. I feel the smile on her lips, the rumble of laughter in her chest. I feel her sandaled feet strike the ground as she runs, the strain of muscle as she bounds over fallen pines and shallow brooks. Her hand grips tight around her bow. Through her eyes I see the woods painted silver and black beneath a heavy moon. A tendril of hair comes loose from her braid and tickles across the bridge of her nose. The air is heavy with the scent of salt and olives, carried on a tender wind from the south.
Artemis, my sister, is alive with the night. She is made for the night and it for her. She is mystery and grace, power and beauty. But she forgets, the moon only shines because the sun allows it so. And where she is the night, I am the day.
I mourn her bliss. Where her heart is steeped in love, mine is steeped only in hatred; hatred for the one called Orion. He is a liar, a thief. With deceit and charm he blemished what was once pure. He fouled my dear, sweet Artemis. And she is enraptured by this giant of a man, blinded by love. Together they hunt, drinking in the night. Lust burns between them. His sordid eyes, green like laurel, burn into hers.
I shut her visions from my mind and scowl up at the sky. Their love is an abomination, and one that I must end. Who was this giant to taint my sister’s chastity? What lies has he whispered in her ear? She is not one easily deceived, which makes this Orion cunning. Which makes him dangerous.
“I need your help, dear Morpheus. Will you aid me?”
Morpheus steps from behind a large boulder on my right. I turn to him. Feathered wings, black like onyx, encircle his shoulders. Pale blue eyes pierce the darkness, brilliant almost as the moon itself. His face, soft and boyish, seems cut from polished quartz. Dark curls brush the tops of his shoulders, bleeding in with the blackness of his wings. He is a stunning creature to behold.
“I am yours as you wish, Apollo. What troubles you?” His hands hang loose at his sides as he awaits my answer.
I turn my back to Morpheus, scanning the woods far below our place on the hill. “My sister.”
Morpheus shifts behind me. “Artemis,” he breathed.
“Hush, you fool! She must not know a word of what we speak, lest she be privy to our plans.” I face Morpheus once more and spread my hands in apology. “Forgive me. I worry for her. She has been enraptured by a man. A giant. He has poisoned her thoughts.”
Morpheus nods in understanding. “What may I do to help?”
I feign deep contemplation for a moment, though I have known all along what I intend. “Perhaps we, you, could put her into a deep sleep. I want her to dream of the hunt, a hunt so vivid she will pursue it in wakefulness.”
Mischief glimmers in Morpheus’ eyes. “I see. In the dream she should pursue a giant creature.”
“One who plagues the young girls, chases her beloved acolytes,” I complete. There is no laughter in the smile I offer Morpheus. We gaze upon each other, and I know he understands my plans.
“Why do you have this?” I trace my finger along the raised edge of the scorpion etched into his flesh. He is warm and solid against me. The trees whisper above our heads, the creatures of the night soothe us with their odes. I inhale his scent, and press myself closer to his warmth.
Orion grins. His hand, twice the size of a normal man’s, envelopes mine, while the other traces my naked spine. I shiver. “I once angered the Gods, and they sent a scorpion the size of a horse to haunt me. I defeated the scorpion, though many believe it defeated me.”
“It is a symbol of your triumph, then.” I trace the creature again, and this time allow my fingers to trail down Orion’s chest and abdomen, wandering to other places.
“Yes,” he says. His eyes grow lazy with lust. He pulls me closer. Pine needles and forest debris stab at our bare flesh, but we pay it no mind.
“And what would be your mark were you to conquer me?” Playfulness is thick in my voice. Orion’s hand cups my face, pulling me in to a kiss. The hand trailing down my spine now clutches my hair, holding my lips to his. His touch is carnal. The air burns with our desire.
In one swift movement he rolls, and I am pinned to the forest floor. He rises above me, a grin dancing on his lips. “I shall wear your scent on my skin, and your sweetness on my tongue.” He stoops to kiss me once more. Our tongues dance like flames; flickering, tasting, and teasing. Our fingers lace together as he withdraws his kiss and poises himself above me.
“And what if I am not to be conquered?”
Orion’s eyes darken. His fingers tighten around mine. “Then you shall not be conquered. I would wear your love as a token, not a trophy. I know who you are,” he breathes against my hair. His lips brush across the laurel wreath woven through my hair.
“And who am I?”
He smiles. “You are the night, Artemis. You are passion and blood, the wind in the tress; Goddess of the wild, the hunt—“
“—of chastity,” I finish.
Orion nods, somber. “Yes.”
“You should face the wrath of the Gods for our actions.” He knows my words are true, but he is unafraid. My brave Orion, thief of my heart. I am defenseless against him. His power is intoxicating. I am captivated again and again by the way his muscles coil beneath taut skin as he looses his arrows. He keeps pace where no other can. He knows the forests, the animals. We are kindred spirits. We are the Giant and the Goddess.
But I am no fool to believe that my love will spare him from the wrath of the Gods. My Orion was marked for punishment from the moment we tasted each other’s flesh. It was the taste of damnation.
I stare up at Orion, memorizing every line and curve of his handsome face. I look deep into his laurel-green eyes, unblinking and clear. I unlace my fingers from his and trace his tapered brows, trailing down across sharp cheekbones, and the prominent bridge of his nose; down across his full lips, and around his strong chin. The Gods envy such a face.
He bends his forehead to rest against mine. “Their wrath cannot wash away my love for you, Artemis.”
The sound of my name on his lips shivers across my skin, burning in the tenderest of places. I beckon him closer, to press his flesh against mine. I need his heat, his power; a power that does not disavow mine, but amplifies it. He does not seek to control or to suppress. He seeks to awaken and fortify. And I have been awakened.
“Orion.” I whisper his name into his lips, willing it to reverberate through the very earth, to the disembodied ears of Hades, and up into the heavens, dancing around the stars peering down on us. “Make me the symbol of your triumph once more.”
His kisses descend on my skin, hands venturing where the path leads them. I give myself to him once more, and the night fills with our own song, sacred and enduring.
I watch them from the shadows. The moon is high, wisps of gray clouds shrouding its silver light. I force myself to remain, my fist clenching around my own bow. The time will come, and I will correct this error on my dear sister’s behalf. She is Artemis, daughter of Zeus and the titan Leto. She is my beloved twin sister, who helped bring me forth into the world. But she is blind, overtaken by this giant, Orion. I will not allow her be led astray.
Morpheus stands at my side, his ice-blue eyes pinned to the scene before us. He touches my shoulder, shaking his head when I turn to him. “It is not time,” he says. “Wait until they sleep.” I hardly hear his voice over their moans echoing through the trees.
My rage builds with their climax. “He is just a man.”
“A giant.” Morpheus shrinks away from my glare. The feathers of his wings flutter in the breeze. His pale skin glows in the darkness.
“A man nonetheless. Not even a demi-god. What does she see? How has he moved her to neglect her chastity?” I bow my head, refusing to look on her betrayal any longer.
The night wanes around us. After a time the forest falls in to silence. Even the creatures stop their chorus. Artemis and her giant lay entwined in each other on the forest floor. Leaves and needles cling to her disheveled hair. The giant’s chest rises and falls in an even rhythm. They are fast asleep.
“The time has come, dear Morpheus.”
Morpheus steps into the clearing, his feet soundless over the ground. He crouches first at the giant’s side, and whispers in his ear before moving on to Artemis. With great care, he smoothes the umber hair from her face, and presses his lips to her ear. His lips move against her skin. A strong gust of wind sighs through the clearing.
Morpheus smiles as he stands and extends his hand out to beckon me. I move to his side, peering down at my sleeping sister. “It is done,” Morpheus says. “The blemish will soon be wiped clean.”
I sneer at his angelic face. “It will never be wiped clean. What is done is done. But she will remember this night, and the blood that stains her hands, and never again will she be swept away by whim.”
Morpheus’ shoulder sag. His wings droop down his back. He stares down at the sleeping Artemis and I know his heart was growing heavy.
“It is a grave thing we do here, tonight, Morpheus. I loathe that it must happen, but I—am—the—sun. I cannot allow her to act in this way. Tragedy is all that awaits her. The Fates will see to it.” Sadness fills Morpheus’ eyes, but I do not pity him, nor do I pity my sister. As I felt her joy, I felt her knowledge. She knew the giant was doomed, and yet she allowed herself to take his flesh into her own. I could be held no more accountable than she herself.
Artemis stirs at my feet. I glance down. Her eyes are open. For a moment I fear we will be exposed, that our plan will unravel before fruition. Morpheus calms me with a hand on my shoulder.
“See, she is waking in her dream. And so it begins.” Morpheus places a hand on my shoulder and coaxes me back into the shadows.
The forest is different. Though it looks the same, instinct tells me it is different. Much different. Where is Orion? The earth is still warm where he slept at my side, but he is gone. I call out to him. There is no answer. I rise from the ground. My body is clothed with nothing but moonlight. I search the darkness, using my powers to penetrate even the deepest of shadows. I find nothing but creatures.
“Orion!” My voice thunders through the wood. The ground shakes with his name. The anger seething in my veins sends the wildlife scattering. Where had he gone? Why had he left? I reach out with my senses, seeking beneath every rock, behind every tree. But he is not there.
With a single thought, my bow appears in my hand. My quiver, filled with arrows, rests against my naked back. I am the Huntress. I will find what is mine. I set off like a swift wind through the trees. The wind beats at my face, howls in my ears. I shout his name to the heavens as my feet strike the earth.
Soon, the forest gives way to rocky slopes. I halt at the edge of the wood, peering down on slate valleys, and the flicker of lights from a temple where women and girls devote their chastity to me. I inhale air deep into my lungs, longing for the scent of Orion on the wind. Again, there is nothing, and again, my heart aches with longing.
A scream pierces the night, then another and another. Small specks of white scramble around the temple. Danger is there. It ripples in the air and leaves a bitterness on my tongue. I will myself closer, and am suddenly standing amidst the chaos. Many of the pillars surrounding the open courtyard are scorched black from flame. Shards of clay jars litter the soft grass, the bite of wine stinging the air.
“A beast! A beast!” The women scream. I notch an arrow in my bow, seeking the danger. All around me they cry my name, cry it for protection, and cry it for salvation. Their eyes are haunted, but I am fearless. I am their protection.
I hear it then, the thunderous roar of a beast larger than any typical creature. My heart leaps with excitement. I smile. The thrill of the hunt courses through my veins as I stalk forward. I raise my bow, fingers poised to loose. The ground quakes with the beast’s footfalls. I stand my ground, knowing it will come to me.
I am not disappointed. The Minotaur appears in the clearing and sidles closer. Crimson stains his dagger-like horns. Its yellow eyes hold fury and bloodlust. It is rare that a Minotaur would from their labyrinths, and they are far too dense to find their own way. This beast was sent.
“Who sent you here?” I ask. I aim the tip of my arrow at the beast’s chest as it draws nearer. The beast offers no response. I repeat the question and still no answer. I frown at the beast. “You must leave this place. If you do not, I will kill you.”
The Minotaur exhales and begins to pace a line back-and-forth, mere yards away.
“Leave, you fiend!” I shout.
The Minotaur lowers its head and charges, becoming a blur of brown against a gray night. I loose the arrow without hesitation. The shaft finds its home, but the beast continues to charge. I notch another arrow and let it fly. This arrow, too, sinks home, deep in the beast’s chest. Its howl echoes through the valley. I smile, triumphant, as it collapses to its knees and falls onto its side. Thick, dark blood flows from its wounds. And before my eyes, the beast begins to disintegrate. I lower my bow and watch on in confusion. Minotaurs do not disintegrate when dead. Their corpses rot just like that of a human. But this one is different.
I approach with caution. The Minotaur shifts, rolling on to its back, and I gape in sudden horror. My bow clatters to the ground. “No,” I whisper. “No!”
Orion lies where the Minotaur collapsed. The air around me ripples, expands and contracts. My head swims. I fall to my knees, trying to make sense of the scene. I hear a familiar laugh filled arrogance and mischief.
The pillars of my shrine melt into the ground as if they were never there, and the women along with them. I kneel in an empty, silent valley. Orion lies before me. His skin is ashen. His eyes stare up into the heavens, though there is no life in them. I reach out for him, only for another hand to grasp my own.
“It is done, dear Sister. I have freed you from his lies,” Apollo says.
I look up into my brother’s pale golden eyes, the color of sunset. His bronze skin glints in the dimness, as if he carries the sun on his very flesh. Golden blonde hair spills over his shoulders and the bare muscles of his chest. I want to smite the grin from his face. I want to dim the light shining from the very essence of his being.
“You have freed me from nothing!” I rip my hand away from his. Tears like milk spill from my eyes. “You have imprisoned me in agony, brother. Why have you done this?”
Apollo crouches at my side. I despise the pity in his eyes. “Sister,” he whispers, stroking the back of his knuckles across my cheek. “It was an abomination. Tell me that it was not. You knew punishment would fall upon him.”
I shove against Apollo, knocking him to the ground. He laughs, a sound like warm summer days, waves crashing against the shore, and a lover’s embrace. “Butyou, my brother? Of all the gods, you!” How dare he laugh at my grief? How dare he steal from me the only lover I’d ever known? Of all the gods, it is at my brother’s hands that I lose Orion. No. It is at my hand that Orion has been smitten from the earth and cast into Hades.
I curl over on myself and press my forehead to the ground. The ache is deep inside of me, deeper than I ever imagined I could feel. Orion hunted at my side, cared for lowly creatures at my side. He kissed the sweat from my brow after our lovemaking. He was agile and gentle, strong and powerful. His presences filled a part of myself I had not known was empty, and now the emptiness returned; a chasm deeper and more abysmal than ever before.
Thunder rumbles above our heads. I don’t need to look to know the cause. I remain with my face to the ground and pour my anguish into the soil as the heavens churn. An eagle’s screech fills my ears. I look up then. Apollo is on his feet, his sunset eyes pinned to a giant eagle circling above our heads.
“Father,” Apollo says. He smiles down at me, knowing it is me our father has come to chastise. The sun shines again as the moon weeps.
The eagle hovers low over the ground, and the moment its talons touch the earth, a towering man appears in its place. Zeus, our father, steps forward, his arms outstretched to us. Pity is etched into his face, pooled in his glowing amber eyes. He is bronzed and brilliant even in the night. It is no wonder even the other gods are helpless to him. Soft coils of black hair fall across his shoulders, standing in stark contrast to the brilliant white of his chlamys. A beard of the same black covers his strong jaw, hanging to brush his exposed chest. The air ripples around him as he glides across the grass. “My beloved children,” he says to us. His voice is not fit for this atmosphere. It is too loud, too dense. His words rumble in the ground, stretch up into the sky, and fill every pore of the earth.
“Father,” Apollo offers a profound bow, the corner of his cupid lips curled up into a grin.
Our father looks on Apollo with pride. “My son. You have done a great thing. Alas, your sister mourns and is deserving of our consolation.” He turns to me now, and stoops to offer me his hand. I refuse his gesture and look away. He sighs and crouches at my side, the soft material of his chlamys rustles with his movement.
I will not look at my father. Instead, I keep my eyes on Orion’s motionless body. I study the shafts of my arrows protruding from his flesh. Never before have I mourned a single arrow I let loose. But these I despise. How had my heart not known it was him even through the illusion? Did he know it was me who drove the arrows through his heart? Did his love fade for me as his life faded? The questions were far too painful to answer, the guilt far too potent.
“Artemis,” my father’s voice falls over me, compelling me to turn to him. “What your brother says it true. Your love for this beast was a disgrace. You broke your vows, and because of this your powers will wane, your beauty and your place on Olympus with it. What mortal would be worth this loss?”
I say nothing. My father is cunning with words and deceptive in his ways. I have seen other gods ripped apart by my father, struck down like mere mortals, or struck down to become mere mortals.
He continues. “I feel your pain as my own.” He strikes his fist against his chest. “Your agony is ours, and so for you I will set Orion in the stars where he can look down on you always, and a reminder of your vows will be engraved in the heavens. You will look on him in the night to know never to break your chastity again. I will restore your integrity and you will continue to be Artemis, Maiden of the Hunt, Maiden of Virginity and Childbirth.”
I turn my eyes to Orion once more, only his body is no longer there. My father’s finger brushes beneath my chin, lifting it to look into the night. Orion stands among the stars, his bow outstretched and taut. His belt glimmers the brightest. I close my eyes and let the tears slide down my cheeks. “You see?” My father asks. “He is with you always. He will hold you to your promise.”
Without another word the night goes silent. My father and Apollo are gone. The wind has died. The creatures of the night have fallen into a mourning of solidarity. I pull myself from the ground, adjust the laurel wreath entwined in my hair, grasp my bow from the ground, and set off into the night, into the hunt, while my beloved smiles down on me.
© Copyright 2015 by Kristy Herbeck. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of Kristy Herbeck.SUBSCRIBE