Before you start, you should know this. My story is not fictional. It is as real as the green grass under your feet, and the clouds under mine. I am Artemis. And although my true story is never recounted, it was real. And I'm going to tell you now.
It's not all it's cracked up to be, the whole god business. It's a kind of odd loneliness. You spend your life gazing down at others living their lives, loving, giving, caring, and then you look around you, at all we gods have, and it doesn't seem right. You lay at night and hear their pitiful prayers.
“Please, please, please, Artemis, look over me! I know he is coming, I need to hide, oh Artemis, show me where to hide!” It's saddening sometimes, to think these people cannot manage to run their own lives without the help of the gods. I am one of the lower goddesses, for I am neither enchanting nor ladylike. I have beauty, of course I do, I am immortal, but I am not like Hera, or Aphrodite, or Demeter. I am the other goddess. The silent huntress that cannot enchant, nor smile, nor act like a goddess. If it wasn't for Apollo, I'm convinced I would throw myself into Tartarus without a care in the world. But having my beautiful brother there for me, keeps me in hope. But I want more love. Zeus likes to say that I am determined to remain chaste, that I have no interest in love. Or, at least, that's what he says now, after everything, after my actions, after the beauty I found on Earth's soft soil.
It was aeons ago now, yet I was just as young as I am now. And, in many ways, I was wiser then too. I knew what I wanted, and what I needed, and everything was simple. Wisdom doesn't come with age, or experience, it comes with being able to look at people, and see who they really are, not who you think they are. I felt I had lived for too long back then, the thought of carrying on for more eternity was intolerable. I was yearning something then, and I knew exactly where I could find it. Earth. I loved wandering through its beautiful woods. But I wanted to stay, I wanted to live a mortal life, to love, have children, grow old and die with a heart swollen with memories. Instead I got Zeus and the angry, greedy yells of the gods. And so I did it, I ran away. I took my bow, kissed my brother and told him not to look for me and soared down to earth. I decided to go to my favourite hunting spot, Mount Citharion. It's so beautiful there, and I have my secret garden. I found it as a child, when I would come to bathe surrounded by my mother's nymphs. It's like a sort of personal haven, with a graceful stone arch that opens onto a small meadow with a clear stream, perfect for bathing. I decided to bathe here, to calm my nervously pounding heart. The water felt soft against my flesh, and soon I was submerged, completely relaxed, feeling the water flow over me, flow through me. It was nice to come here alone, without my nymphs. For the first time in my existence, I was completely alone. Or so I thought.
Snap. The sound of a twig cracking underfoot brought me up out of the stream. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.
“Who's there?” I yell, fear flooding me. Perhaps it's Apollo, come to talk me out of my mad scheme. Snap. Another twig cracks and my heart begins to pump wildly. I hear the sound of bushes sway as something moves past them. And then, I see him. A man, no, a boy. Or is it a man? I can't tell, but he's young, and there's a youthful gleam in his eye. He is staring at me. Staring like he was a blind man regaining his sight, his eyes growing wider as he looked and looked. And, for some reason, I looked back. I was staring just as he was. His eyes were green, no, brown, no, blue. They were filled with colours. Black, emerald, sapphire, gold, silver, the more I looked, the more colours I saw. And his skin, like that of a sunset, a soft, hazelnut, golden shine. The more I looked at this boy, the harder it became to stop. Until he moved. Then, like a wild animal, I dived underneath the shallow water and swam to my clothes. He stayed motionless, still gazing. My breath was coming in gasps as I heaved myself out of the water and pulled on my chiton and slung my arrows over my shoulder and grabbed my bow. Turning to face him, I was determined not to become entranced again. But, just looking at him standing there, with the hint of a smile on his smooth lips. It made me stop and stare again. Until he did the unexpected. He spoke.
“Who are you?” His voice was honey, and it swirled in the air around me. But, it broke the spell.
“Can't you tell? I am Artemis. And you are very rude. I should kill you, for staring at a goddess in such a way!” The words came pouring from my mouth, but he could tell as much as I could that I didn't mean a word. He laughed, and came towards me.
“And what, I wonder, is the punishment for a goddess who stares at a hunter like me? Death? Banishment? No, you are far too pretty for that.” His arrogance shocked me, and I suddenly realised I was supposed to be running away from the laws of the gods, and the one thing that Zeus would hate me doing, the one thing he forbids above all, is being with a human. So, that's what I decided to do.
“What's your name, O great hunter?”
“Actaeon. I'm sorry I startled you. I was just looking for rest from my hunting party, and I saw you. You were so beautiful. I am truly sorry, I suppose it's a terrible thing to see a goddess unclothed. Let me make it up to you. Come back with me, I will make you a meal, and you shall tell me of the ways of the gods.” He was very close now, and I could have reached out and stroked his soft brown curls. But I took his outstretched hand instead. At the feel of his rough, warm skin, lightning bolts shot through me and I shivered. He laughed. “What's wrong goddess, never held the hand of a man before?”