Blessed Solitude
by L. M. Townsend

Standard Xena disclaimers (the licensed characters are not mine, they belong to those who created them, no copyright infringement is intended, etc.) and subtext, though, as always, nothing graphic.

This story takes place when the gods are a little younger and less experienced. ;)

Aphrodite had a headache. Not the nuisance kind that just lingered, but a throbbing, pounding beat inside her head that had nothing to do with the pink shell-shaped headphones she currently wore. In fact, the music was turned off and the headphones were there merely to muffle the noise of millions of supplicants, clamouring to be heard by her.

"Arrgh! Why can't they, like, just go and bug someone else?" she whined with a pout, then flounced into a large, pink velvet chair.

"There is no one else, Sis' - you are the Goddess of Loooove - and everybody wants to be in love," Ares suddenly appeared and taunted her.

"Go away, Ares," said Aphrodite.

"You know, there is a way to make them stop bothering you," said her brother, stroking his chin, thoughtfully.

"How?" asked Aphrodite, eagerly. "Oh, wait a minute - if this coming from you, there's a catch; there always is. Zeus says Goddess of Love is a very important responsibility - he also said I was here to keep you from running amok - whatever a 'mok' is."

"Nah, no catch," said Ares, a little too earnestly. "You can take a break from all the prayers and supplications if you can't hear them. I have to do that sometimes, myself. It just all gets to be so ... tiresome, doesn't it? A little break never changes the larger picture when it comes to mortals. They really don't suffer at all and you get to come back to them, refreshed and ready to listen and answer their petty prayers."

"A break, huh? That doesn't sound too bad," said Aphrodite, wavering. "What do I have to do?"

"Just ... stop listening ... " said Ares, grinning as he faded from her room.

"Stop ... okay, very funny Ares!" said Aphrodite, jumping to her feet and a particularly plaintive plea hit her - accompanied by an offering of fish.

"Ick! I hate fish - you'd think people would get that coming from the ocean would make a person, like, want to avoid some stuff - like the smell of ugly fish," said the goddess, shaking her head. "That is it - no more gooey love junk. I am going to focus on being goddess of beauty - love can wait."

She began to ignore the prayers for love and instead focus on beauty - her own, that is. The goddess grew more and more self-centred, staring into a mirror until at last, she no longer heard the increasingly desperate pleas for more love in the world.

In the meantime, her brother, Ares, was indeed running amok; he had managed to get Discord to help him in his scheme by throwing a golden apple which was etched with the words, "For the most beautiful" in the midst of his mother and sisters. Naturally, Aphrodite won after promising the poor mortal sucker chosen to judge the contest the most beautiful woman in the world. Aphrodite flexed her little-used love powers to make Helen, the wife of Menelaus, to fall for Paris and to run away with him.

Ares used his sister's growing vanity and refusal to listen to love-pleas to embroil nearly all of Olympus into a war between Troy and Greece - even the Amazons were involved. His power grew as the war stretched into years. Aphrodite was enjoying her solitude, but one day, she realised she was missing something. One day, Aphrodite realised that, even though she had the admiration of gods and mortals alike, she was terribly lonely.

All of the gods were busy with their silly Trojan war and she had ceased to hear the mortals who still bothered to pray to her. She decided to listen to just one mortal - an eloquent little girl who used to entertain her with offerings in the form of ballads and stories. The child was a farmer's daughter and didn't have any money to buy more fancy offerings and sacrifices, but at least she never offered her fish - and what's more, the little girl had never once asked Aphrodite for anything in return. The goddess felt a moment of fear then - would the child still speak to her? It had been years since she'd listened to her - or any other mortal, for that matter. Aphrodite felt twinge of guilt - but only briefly - before she began to listen for the the child's voice.

Where was she? Had she stopped telling stories? Oh, wait - there! With a pang, the goddess realised that the child was now a young woman, living on her father's farm. She was still telling her stories, though, only now there was a certain, sad resignation about her. At the same time, Aphrodite felt a restlessness in the young woman.

"She needs to fall in love - that oaf they've arranged for her to marry will never make her happy!" the goddess cried out in dismay. "I hope I remember how to do a love spell - gosh, I'm out of practice!"

Aphrodite watched for the opportunity to help the village girl. In the meantime, she practiced her love spells on other mortals. She began to listen to their prayers. Sure enough, they had grown less over the years, but mortals never ceased to amaze Aphrodite with their capacity for hope and faith, and the prayers still came. She ignored the frivolous, vain prayers of maidens to be made more beautiful in the hope of capturing this youth or that - or several. Instead, Aphrodite focused on matching soulmates to one another - it so irked the other gods that it gave the goddess a perverse pleasure. As always, Zeus smiled indulgently at his favourite daughter - when his attention could be torn from the war, that is.

"I have got to do something about that war - Daddy never has any time for me anymore," Aphrodite pouted.

One day, Aphrodite watched as the village girl was taking some wash to the stream with a group of other girls, She was chattering away and the goddess was amazed that the other girls could ignore such a great story - it was about her, of course, so it captured the goddess's interest right away. So engrossed was she in the story of herself and her magic girdle that made any god or mortal enamoured of her ...

"Like I need a magic girdle," Aphrodite snorted delicately, but she listened for more, loving the sound of her name on the girl's lips ...

...that she almost missed the approaching danger from two sides. Quickly, the goddess backed away to get a look at the threat to her now-favourite mortal. On one side, slavers approached, ready to pounce on the girls. On the other, a dark warrior - the one the goddess recognised as her brother's favourite - approached, though strangely, the warrior-woman was stripped of all her armour and weapons. Although Aphrodite sensed the danger the woman posed to the village girl, it was not as immediate as the slavers who were starting to attack the girls taking the wash to the stream.

Aphrodite acted quickly. She magically "shoved" the warrior-woman towards the melee, only to be surprised once again as the dark soul of this warrior and the brightly lit soul of the Bard came together as one. The village girl was fighting back against the slavers with all her might as the warrior woman stepped in. At that point, Aphrodite lost interest; she had no desire to watch some dumb fight - especially since she already knew the outcome. Her work was done, though the goddess resolved to linger and listen and to keep her eye out for the inherent danger she had seen from the Warrior to the Bard. That was for another day, perhaps years away.

From that day on, revelling in the satisfaction of having brought the soul-mates together (it completely escaped her that they had been gravitating towards one another before she came along, as soul-mates often do when mortals listen to their hearts), Aphrodite began listening to the prayers of mortals again (though she might ignore them if they gave her stinky fish) and love once again began to grow among mortals. She even found a way to stop her brother's distracting war with the help of the Warrior Woman and the Bard - but that is another story altogether.

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