Part Eight

Ambrogio sobbed uncontrollably. Artemis held him close, comforting him until he calmed down enough to talk.

She said “I have seen your dedication Ambrogio. I have seen you take difficult shots with poise and precision. I have seen you care for the bird after death and present it to me. I have seen you, Ambrogio”

He looked at her, thankful, fearful, and uncertain about whether to proceed with the plan or to simply ask her for help concerning Apollo.

She seemed like a decent person. Caring, loving, someone who could help him resolve his problem, and possibly be the answer to being with Selene.

But he felt some omissions were in order.

He had his love stolen from her brother and was cursed by him. Made a deal with Hades that had the potential to be an eternal problem. Now, the idea of throwing himself at the mercy of a third god seemed unwise.

He said “I have impressed you Artemis. For that, I am grateful. My aim was true, and my intent was fulfilled. Sadly, that was not the only reason for my actions. Down there,” he pointed to Delphi and its temple “is a woman I love, one I desire to marry, bear children with, to build a family with. She is my love, and I have been attempting to please her with my mind through poetry. My abilities through hunting. I have done this with the swans, with poetry using the blood of what I captured, and the words of my heart. Today was the last day of my challenge, and while I am overjoyed that you have noticed me, my heart breaks at the same time because I missed the swan with my final arrow. I can’t complete my task because of a single arrow, a single miss. And it feels all for nothing if I fail to win her over. Even with another arrow, I may still miss. I don’t know what to do.”

He looked at her. She was looking down at Delphi, then turned to smile at Ambrogio.

“You deserve what you have worked hard for. Your love will be cared for, fed well and will bring happiness to your family. She is a strong woman, she deserves a strong partner.” She removed her bow and a single arrow and handed them to Ambrogio.

“You can borrow my bow, one arrow is all you have and need. Take the final shot, send her the final poem and complete all that you have started here.”

Ambrogio accepted the silver bow of Artemis.

Somehow, he had found a way to get the bow, Hades would be pleased, he was going to be with Selene. He remained still though, unsure whether betraying the kindness of Artemis was the right way forward.

She stood there, smiling, confident in his abilities to complete the last hunt. She believed in him.

He smiled at her, thanked her, stood up and headed towards the lake where the swans were resting. He left with the intent of hunting the last swan. Of writing the last poem, then asking Artemis for help.

As he walked, his heart began to sink. While he wanted to ask Artemis because she looked like a good person, it was a risk that could ruin his chances of being with Selene.

Handing the bow and arrow to Hades was a sure deal.

While it felt right to ask Artemis, it was the risk of failing and having his soul with Hades for eternity without Selene that put pause to the idea of asking her for help.

This risk was too high.

Even though he had decided to take the bow to Hades, he stood there, looking across the lake, seeing the swan he could kill.

The moon was high, the air clear, it felt right to take the shot.

Yet he turned his back on the lake, scanned the landscape for Artemis to see if she was actively watching and saw nothing. Then considered the quickest route to the cave that leads to Hades and believed he could make the run successfully.

Taking several deep breaths, he began the sprint to the cave. Running as fast as he could, bearing in mind the distance to pace himself. He leapt the rocks, skirted the trees, and ducked the branches as the world rushed by him in his bid to make the distance.

When he was closing in on the cave entrance, he believed he had made it. He was imagining the warm embrace of Selene. The eternal future with her. He was about to succeed.

Then the bow began to burn. The silver seared his hands quickly and in reflex he dropped the bow.

When it dropped to the ground, Ambrogio knew he had been found out, but he picked the bow up again, endured its pain for as long as he could before he dropped it again.

He covered it with leaves, he was able to hold it now but between him and the cave entrance stood Artemis.

Her strength, her power, and her prowess were all on display, except this time Ambrogio found no solace in that. He only felt fear, annoyance and the knowledge that he had failed, and she was about to punish him severely.

Collapsing to the ground, Artemis approached him.

In a stern voice she said “I trusted you Ambrogio. You gained my attention, my respect and my gift and you betrayed me. Tell me, how much of what you told me was lies”

“Everything I told you is true. It is what I didn’t tell you that matters” he explained. “I was not sure what to do, I don’t know you, and I have made a deal with Hades to get my love back. A deal that meant stealing your silver bow in exchange for being with Selene for eternity in Elysium. Fail and we are separated for eternity in Tartarus”

“Selene?” Artemis repeated back to him. “Are you the one Apollo cursed to stop getting Selene?”

“Yes”. He looked into Artemis’s eyes and pleaded “I am so sorry, I felt trapped, and while I believe you are a good force, I couldn’t be sure of the result if I threw myself at your mercy. I have my soul at stake, the soul of my loved one could be separated from me forever if I make a wrong decision. I have a sure result if I got the bow to Hades. I have been punished by Apollo simply because I love the same woman he wants as a muse. I know he is your brother, but wrong is wrong, and I am trying to make it right for Selene and myself.”

Artemis tilted her head slightly in thought. Looked closely at Ambrogio, the said “Making a deal with Hades is foolish, although I understand your reasoning. Annoying my brother is also foolish, but I relate to your love and reaction. I can even understand why you betrayed my trust. Because of this, I will make you an offer. While I can’t remove the curse of Apollo or break the deal with Hades, I can counter them.”

Ambrogio felt some hope.

He also felt dread.

His experience with the deals with gods had not produced a result to his advantage, and yet, he felt his options were limited.

She said “Hades can only collect when you die. To counter that, I will give you immortality.

To counter Apollo, you need to avoid the sun. While you are a decent hunter, to thrive in the night, you need more skill, more weapons. For that, I will gift you the speed and strength of a god. And your weapon will be fangs to drain the blood of your prey for nourishment and for writing your poems.

These gifts will allow you to ask Selene to follow you and escape my brother if she agrees.

In exchange for these gifts, you and Selene will forever worship me, the god of virgins and the unmarried. You will never make love with her, touch her or marry her. Never kiss, never have children. You will be in her company always, enjoy her company and she will enjoy yours.

Do you agree to these terms?”

Ambrogio sat there, stunned at the deal for allowing them to be together yet never being able to bridge the distance between them.

Quietly, he considered the deal.

Slowly, he came to the answer.

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