Actaeon lived in the very heart of the woods, in a small dwelling made from felled trees. There was a pen outside it, with a few hunting dogs. He told me they had been his father's. It was small, but well furnished inside the house, with a bear skin rug, a rocking chair, a large and wobbly looking bed, several large cupboards, an open oven built into the wall with a place for the fire beneath it and a portrait of a girl.
“Welcome to my palace.” Actaeon grinned at my stupefied expression. “I'm sure you're used to much grander affairs, but it's all I've got.”
“It's lovely, like a proper home.”
“Well, thanks, it means a lot coming from a goddess. Now, you sit there,” he gestured to the chair, “while I make you your meal, as promised." I watched as his strong hands rubbed flints together to light the fire, how he opened cupboards and chopped asparagus. Soon the smell of thyme, oregano, garlic, olives and fish were dancing in the air around us. After a while, Actaeon suddenly, began pulling things from the oven, tossing them about and, finally, arranging them onto two earthen bowls. “It's ready goddess, come, follow me.” He lead the way out of the house and into the warm, pine smelling forest outside. There was a small wooden table, tall enough to eat from if you were sitting on the ground, which I figured we must be.
“This looks gorgeous!” I grinned as I sat by the table, facing him as he placed the bowls down, slid under the table and pulled a dark bottle from under it.
“I haven't got glasses, I'm sorry, I'm not used to company. Wine?” I sipped the sweet smelling liquid and, even though the gods have the most incredible wines on mount Olympus, this tasted like nothing I had ever had before. “I can't believe I'm going to dine with a goddess, I had always thought you had better things to do!” He smiled at me.
“Yes, I suppose normally we have better things to do than put up with troublesome hunters. Now, let's eat!”
The food was delicious, sardines cooked with a variety of sumptuous spices, with asparagus, olives, bread made from barley and the most sensational cheese in the world. After we had eaten until we were fit to burst, we sat and watched the sun set, talking about hunting and the mysteries of nature. He had a way with words, a way of making everything sound magical.
“What's it like, up there? In the clouds? Is it like the stories we mortals tell? All beauty and grace?” He leaned back against a tree and studied me with dark eyes.
“It's different, yes, it's not quite as idyllic as you humans make it out to be. Well, that's not true. It's idyllic for most, but not for me. I don't fit in there, I did at first, but I just hate the way the gods sit back and watch Earth suffer, but go to sleep every night with not a weight on their minds. It's sick, and I can't do it. If I can't do anything to help, then what is the point in all the worshipping? Yes, some gods and goddesses do the odd spectacular act and all the humans flock to pay their thanks, but we could do so much more. And we don't. And I can't live like that, so I ran away.” Actaeon closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
“I know what you mean. I sometimes feel like I'm stuck in this stupid little spiral, that I will spend my whole life living in a hut, that I will marry some plain market seller and have four children, before I die early of some horrible disease. I've never had any kind of adventure in my life, nothing extraordinary has ever happened to me. Until you, goddess.” He turned his head and fixed me with a strong and admiring gaze. I blushed in the darkness. “You have made things quite exciting, and I'm sure that I will never forget tonight, even if you are gone tomorrow.”
“I promise you Actaeon, I will stay. I am for the first time in centuries, having a nice time.” He liked this and smiled widely, his teeth like pearls glinting in the moonlight.
“Actaeon, who is the girl in the portrait? The one in your house?” I saw his face droop slightly, and he stared into the trees. It took him a while to answer, but when he did, I could see the tears in his eyes, see the dying sun reflected in them.
“She was my sister. My twin. My whole world. I loved her the way you love Apollo, goddess. I have never loved another person as much as I loved her, and I doubt I ever shall.” The first tear dripped down his cheek, and I wanted so desperately to hold him, to make it all better. But instead I just murmured,
“How...how did she...erm, what happened to her?”
“Killed, four years back. She was just eighteen years old. I was taking her hunting and...” He choked. “She fell, the bear we were hunting got to her. I could only watch. It was my fault, Artemis, it was my fault, I took her hunting. I as good as murdered her.” I was stunned. Not because it was the first time he hadn't called me goddess, but because I had seen that kill. I had been hunting the very same day. But I had only watched. I don't know how, but then I cried. I cried for the first time in my life. And I cried for the loss of someone I knew nothing about. Actaeon held me then, and we cried into each other until we fell asleep on the sweet smelling pine needles.