The story so far:
A lone figure lounged in the palatial garden. Silky folds of cloth draped across her curvy, ample body. Her long fingernails toyed with the rim of the bowl set before her, her eyes roving the sweet delicacies piled within.
The woman lifted a pomegranate from the bowl, turning it over in her hand to examine the fruit’s perfect red skin.
Argus dropped to one knee before his lady. Cold, disinterested eyes regarded him briefly, then turned to the peacock at her side. A light smile blessed her lips as she lifted a single seed from the pomegranate and offered it to the beautiful bird.
Argus waited a moment longer before speaking. “My lady, if it pleases you, I have word of Tigasis, son of Herkales.”
Hera’s hand caressed the peacock briefly before she turned her gaze to her watchful servant. “It pleases me.”
“Tigasis was caught by the virgin priestesses of Artemis. He was spying upon them as they bathed.”
The eyes sparkled in delight. “True?”
“Yes, my lady.”
Hera stretched luxuriously and lifted another pomegranate seed to her pet’s beak. “Tell me of his death. Was it long?” A warm glow spread across her face. “How much did he suffer? Spare no detail.”
“They have not killed him.”
The peacock shrieked in alarm and skittered away as Hera’s fist clenched into the fruit, sending seeds and juice spraying. Her face was ever impassive, but her eyes smoldered with an icy fury.
“You mean to tell me,” she hissed, “that the wretch Tigasis spied upon the bathing priestesses of Artemis, and he has not been slain?”
Argus hastily bowed once, twice, before dropping to hands and knees before her, every last one of his eyes fixed on the floor. “His - his actions did save the life of one of the priestesses, my lady. For this they – they have spared him.” He braved a glance at her face before continuing. “A vile wolf spied upon the priestesses as well, and sought to devour the one. Tigasis entered the pool and killed the beast. Grizlediy did rule that his sentence should be pardoned upon a test of his innocence.”
The fury left Hera’s eyes, replaced by thoughtful calculation. “A test?”
“Yes, my lady. They have sent him to slay the hydra in Mount Tokai.”
Hera ran a delicate finger over a cluster of spilled pomegranate seeds, then slowly lifted the finger to her lips, savoring the juice. “How delightful. I’m certain Grizlediy is unaware that I have my own plans for that hydra.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Her eyes glowed with pleasure. “How delightful.”
Calisti tried to breathe steadily as she ate. It was an effort not to look at the finely sculpted man lounging beside her, enjoying the display of sumptuous foods spread before him. Adrinna continued to glare at both of them from across the table, but Calisti ignored her. She was certain that Adrinna’s vitriol was born of jealousy.
“Do you require any weapons?” High Priestess Grizlediy asked from the other side of Tigasis. “A bow, perhaps?”
The confident smile that was becoming delightfully familiar rested on Tigasis’ face. “Save the blessing of a priestess of Artemis, I have all that I need.”
Calisti was painfully aware of his eyes on her. Her heartbeat quickened.
“I am certain that we can provide that,” Grizlediy said, a note of amusement in her voice.
“I must protest!” Adrinna barked out, flying to her feet. “This man seeks to tempt our sisters from their vows! Surely you can see that, can’t you, High Priestess?”
Grizlediy’s eyes narrowed as she rose, shoulders back and tensed for a challenge. “Do you question my wisdom?”
A few muscles in Adrinna’s jaw worked furiously, but her mouth remained closed. Finally her lips parted. “No, High Priestess. Forgive my outburst.” Each word was bitten off as though leaving a foul taste in her mouth.
“Good.” High Priestess Grizlediy returned to her seat. “Calisti, perhaps you would indulge the young man’s request?”
Calisti thought her heart stopped beating entirely for a moment. She hesitantly lifted her eyes to the man at her side, her auburn curls draping around her face as she moved.
He smiled. “A blessing from your lips will give me all the strength I need to destroy the creature.”
Hoping that no one noticed her tremble, Calisti lifted a cypress cup filled with wine to his lips. His eyes never left hers as he drank deeply. Setting the cup down, she chose a tender grape from the vine on the table and fed it to him. Again, his eyes remained fixed on her as he ate.
“Go with Artemis’ blessing, Tigasis,” Calisti whispered.
“I shall.” His hand suddenly caught hers. Before she could react, he placed a light kiss upon the back of her hand. “And I will return.”
Calisti couldn’t have spoken if she wanted to. She watched, mute, as he stood and offered that painfully wonderful smile to the rest of the virgins at the table. “I’ll take my leave, if you will,” he declared, then winked at Calisti. “I have a monster to slay.”
Adrinna stomped as she neared the pool. The crashing of water from the waterfall matched her mood and almost shouted down the furious thoughts flying through her head. How dare they fall for this man’s vile manipulations? Couldn’t they see he was using his charms to sway them? And the High Priestess was even encouraging it!
Especially that fool Calisti. Adrinna’s teeth ground against one another as she remembered the look on the younger woman’s face. The virgin was smitten, no doubt. Artemis would be furious by the unfaithfulness of her priestesses. Adrinna was the only one still clinging to chastity, she was certain.
Her eyes gazed across the pool, cursing the events of the previous day. If it weren’t for that beast, the man would have been caught spying and put to death, no question. And even so, he still should have been executed for his crime.
Adrinna spun and stared at the woman standing only feet away. Her eyes fell upon the peacock at the woman’s side and widened. “Hera! Why have you come to the foot of Artemis’ temple?”
“I heard of your problem. I’ve come to help.”
Adrinna took a small step back, eyeing the goddess. “Problem?”
“The man. He spied upon you, and yet has not been slain, as he should have been. Artemis will be most displeased, don’t you think?”
“What do you care?” Adrinna blushed slightly at her own boldness. But the goddess only smiled, so Adrinna continued. “Forgive me, my lady, but there is no love lost between you and Artemis.”
“True.” Hera lightly ran her fingers across the peacock’s feathers. “There is also no love lost between me and Tigasis.”
Adrinna paused, then cautiously stepped forward. “It would please you to see him fail in his task?”
Hera’s eyes glowed. “Immensely.”
“I feel the same.”“Then we have an accord.” Hera stepped forward and took Adrinna’s arm, tucking it in her own. “Come. We have much to discuss.”