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The Young Goddess

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On her third birthday, Artemis asked her father, Zeus, for the gift of choice: eternal singleness, clothes short enough to run in, and a bow to make her own kills or spare animals and humans as she so decided. Being a goddess, she had the wisdom to know the weight of such a gift; being her father’s favorite, it was granted to her. For many thousands of years she roamed the forest with her band of maidens, watching over young girls and the beasts of the forest, killing to protect and feed her mortal companions.

However, after some millennia, the gods fell out of favor. They were forgotten, as the role of capricious world-runner went from gods to men, who were far more wicked than any divine ruler could imagine. The Olympians’ spirits, held together by ambrosia and nectar and sacrifice, scattered--some went to other worlds, others became ideas and primordial concepts. A few, however, chose to remain, born at least once into mortal bodies. Artemis remembered her companions and made her choice.

She was, again, her father’s favorite: he named her after a wild plant, took her into the woods and taught her corporeal form to hunt and fish and gather. For the first time, she knew hunger. He died; for the first time, she knew grief. Her mother disappeared into herself; for the first time, she knew starvation.

She was ready to die in a puddle, to join her divine family in memory, when a boy--a son of Demeter, she thought, deliriously, as if Demeter had not long ago become the grain in District 11--tossed her some burned bread.

Artemis remembered divine strength she no longer possessed. She summoned what she could and walked into the forest, tempted never to return, but with the blue eyes of a defenseless maiden companion keeping her where she was. She hunted. She fished. She gathered. And when the time came, she volunteered. She was born to protect. She was born to choose.

She had no thirst for blood. She only wanted to protect her sister--her sisters, the young maidens, the innocent ones, yes, but going from divine to mortal means taking great general love and smashing it down into even greater particular love. Her sister, Prim, was all the little girls she’d ever saved. Her ally, Rue, was all the little girls she had comforted in death.

A goddess, even a newly mortal one, is no one’s puppet. She chose and she chose and she chose, and when there were no forks in the tunnels she walked she dug doorways out of dirt until her nails bled. They told her the war was won. She only knew that her sister was gone.

Artemis was no romantic, but the bread boy was good--a son of the earth, of dandelions and wheat and sugar-sweetness. He was the only light left in a dark world that no deity could comprehend.

Human weakness exceeds the grace of the divine, and the earth remembers. She could never give the son of Demeter her whole heart--but she could give him protection. She could give him security. She could give him the happiness he deserved. She loved him as best she could, and at night she looked at the moon and wondered if she’d made the right choice.