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Daniel Bird Daniel Bird
Recommendations: 47

A Cupid's Arrow

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A Re-Post! From an exercise awhile back called "Cupid's Arrows" where 'Cupid' has to bring together two people who hate each other. Enjoy!

      Bald but for a few little curls that ran like a ring around his head Maricio was rather slow-witted, clumsy, short and plump, certainly not your average beautifully sculpted Cupid by any means. The young Cupid did however, have a face that did not quite seem to belong to him. With dreamy blue eyes, round rosy cheeks, a perfect chin and beautiful red look upon him was like magic. One would become instantly lost in such a perfectly cute child-like face. One could simply not look away. Looking at him long enough would cause one to become mesmerized, and utterly forget that, for a Cupid, he was unlike most in beauty, grace and charm. In fact it was common knowledge that...well, Maricio you say...special. Yes...such a word may describe Maricio.

     Aloof and free roaming without a care in the world, a natural vagabond, a real day dreamer content in his own company, Maricio could often be found merely by stumbling upon him in the strangest places. Alone in the shade, lying stretched out on the branch of a Sycamore tree – merely resting – Maricio would find the music the leaves made absolutely beautiful. Dangling upside down on the very tip of a flag pole overlooking vast crowds of the Colosseum, he loved the sound of combat; the sound of steel clanging, the sound of trumpets blaring and the sound of praise as fifty-thousand Romans cheered on their favourite Gladiators. And often – not caring to look one bit – he cried as men fell to their deaths, praying for them; his heart too fragile for such a thing, his eyes too frightened to gaze into their dying eyes. He could be found at times asleep on the wonderful rose beds of the Emperor’s Palace, listening to the Senators talk their talk as the servants went about their daily business. He could be found wandering the wilds away from the city, snug in the sunshine against a rock with the sun on his face simply twiddling his thumbs to the sounds of the forest.

     Today he could be found on the river’s edge far away from the city where he could not be bothered, where the sounds of the city could not be heard, where the huge crowds piling in for the games, nor the animals in cages or the wonderful dancing beauties could not distract him from the real beauty of the day. Today was for the bees, the hummingbirds, the gentle Lily’s, Carnation, Azalea and the long tufts of grass sprouting up from the earth, bending like curious children over the water if only to glimpse their reflection. Today was for rest and to be alone with his thoughts, to admire the goodness nature provided the world with – those things that most took for granted every day of their lives. Today his bare feet and his legs found the simple pleasure of water while his back, shoulders and wings found the tall grass oh so inviting, soft and sleepy. Today the sun shining through the leaves splashing upon his face lulled him off to nice dreams of ponies in the field and rabbits and butterflies playing the day away.

     Yes, a simple mind, a simple life and a simple heart, Maricio only saw beauty in the simple things like nature, the way of the world and the stars, the way a flower opens up to the bright sun in the early dawn, the way fish travel in schools so different from children, the way an acorn slowly becomes a tree after hundreds of years, the way a blade of grass rises back up after being trampled over. Yes, beauty all around. Maricio saw only vanity and pride and foolishness in the beauty of young overzealous men and vain young women, believing deep in his heart that true beauty comes with wisdom and delectable charm, goodness and grace. Though others laughed and teased him all his life, unable to fathom his strange ways he could not be bothered by such things as the shining beauty young men and women possess, their little hearts dipped in tiny rivers of lust and pride and vanity. His heart was simply too engrossed in the beauty of other things, especially nature. He loved the wild world, the flowers, the grass, the spindly trees and moving waters.

     Where others saw beauty in the special arrangement the young beauty’s of Rome coloured their faces or wore their hair, or the way the young men showed off their sculpted bodies, the way they wrestled and played, Maricio could not be bothered by such a thing. No. While other Cupid’s were following love-struck young boys and fruitful girls, adorned in youth and gifted with beauty and vigour, while they rode hot on the trails of strong men and sultry women, Maricio was off floating over little brooks and sleepy glens on the trail of Dragonflies and bumblebees, simply enjoying the way they spread their pollen, moving endlessly from flower to flower. Maricio was lost in the romance of all things that had naught to do with sweet curvature of fine young women or the strength and ambitions of young men. No. That simply would not do.

     Instead he could be found perched on a branch for days watching a Caterpillar sprout its wings or watching wild Rabbits forage for food, or Ants defending their hills – marching to war against other Ants. Others could not see the wonderful charm of such things – could not hope to understand the scope of such beauty; nor understand that they came from something utterly amazing and grand and beautiful that the finest, most alluring women could not hope to stand next to. Others teased him, saying such things as to demean his place in the world, “Oh Maricio...for all your tenderness, your childish antics and your special special are but a fool. A Cupid is about love, about that special arrangement between two lovers, that bond that only happens when enough arrows have found their mark under the right condition of the moon.” And they were always disappointed by his ignorance, “You’ll never get it. You just don’t understand what true love is. And at this rate you never will.”

     It was Venetia, perhaps the most stunning and beautiful of all Cupid’s – and perhaps too the most arrogant, conceited and egotistical of all Cupid’s – who often came to berate him, her criticism masquerading as genuine help and concern, “Why do you exist at all if it is not for love? Do you even know what love is?” And she loved to brag about herself, “I’ve shot so many arrows and have brought love from far and wide and by my very hand – my very skill – have brought many to soaring heights and utter cataclysmic bouts of delight and utter pleasure!” And on one occasion he had stumped her with a simple question, “Why does it take you so many arrows?”

     And she responded quickly, taken and offended, “I would like to see you do better! I’ve seen you, you can’t even shoot! In fact, I won’t lie to you...everyone says you’re better off as a common peasant. That you’re not a true Cupid.  That you don’t belong here.” And it was true, he was no archer. He had never made a clear shot in his life. In fact, no matter how hard he tried – and he tried many times – his arrows would never shoot straight. They would always wobble and curve and fall flat before ever hitting their mark. He made little argument, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I always say.” And still it didn’t bother him that he was such a terrible shot, that he had never been successful at bringing two people together to find love. He simply was in love with everything else and was quite content watching the river trickle up against grassy banks or watching soft tufts of cotton float off in the summer breeze.

     And then it came, like a full moon over a winter field – bright and impossible to ignore: the challenge. One so deliberately directed at him – made especially for him; such that he could not refuse. And though he existed in accordance with nature – the beauty therein – he could not be made to abandon his most internal light, the one thing he knew and understood so completely he would die for it; the meaning of beauty, the truest kinds of love that there was. A love so true and utterly special that it could never been written or felt by anything ordinary – a love so true that the world might never imagine such a thing could ever exist. A love so true that it could only ever be created by destroying the hatred two people possessed for one another; by draining their hearts of darkness and replacing it with a fuzzy, soft and cuddly light – filling them with such a thing that they had never known before: love. True and amazing love.

     While others were fulfilling their Valentine quota’s, shooting many arrows into young men and women, laughing and cheering when enough had been shot and enough magic had worked that indeed the two targets of infatuation came together under the right circumstances to fall in love – Maricio and Venetia were settling a little quarrel. Dangling her legs over a grassy bank, with only her toes dipped in the river she took his chin in her fingers, looked him in the eye and said, “I’ll bet you your wings that you can’t make two enemies fall in love by the end of Valentine’s day.” And sitting there, she thought to herself what she could do with such a pair of spotted grey wings, and her mind began to race, Why, I could make a lovely pillow out of those feathers. Surely that’s all they’re good for. Or perhaps I could use them to make a door mat.

      And despite his lack of skill, his inability to carve a Bow, or shape an Arrow for that matter – not to mention to shoot it straight and true, he said, “I’ll take that challenge.” And it suddenly occurred to him that he had never truly carved an arrow well enough to make it sail straight and true. And he knew – everybody knew – that arrows were only as good as the Bow that propelled them and the archer that shot them. And everybody knew too that an arrow’s potency was only as strong as the Archer’s love. And it occurred to him right then and there why Venetia’s arrows were so weak, why it took her many arrows – sometimes all fourteen – to make two people come together. And like that it was a mystery solved!

     He smiled, looking at her, a whimsical smile breaking through, seeming to brighten his eyes and still he was unable to tell her, simply because it might hurt her feelings. He wanted to say it – longed to tell her exactly what her problem was but for his heart being too nice, too gentle and too sweet and kind. ‘Your arrows are weak Venetia, simply because you’re not a very nice Cupid!’ But he kept it to himself. He could never hurt her feelings. Could never hurt another’s feelings. He only looked upon her with a great deal of pity. And he saw for the first time her weakness. It was the very fact that she was not happy. Not truly in love with anything but herself. In fact, right then and there he could almost see her envious blood, thickened by grief that the arrows of others were far more potent, that others could make two people fall in love with just three or four arrows. But not her. Not Venetia, no. Her arrows were weak.

     And he felt sad that she could not see the kind of beauty that existed all around her, in the colourful flowers, the sweet smelling breeze, the chirping of morning songbirds, the warmth of evening fires and the taste of Honey in the sunshine, and his favourite: the feel of the rain as it splashed against his face. It made him sad that she saw beauty in all the wrong places – the wrong kind of beauty that existed in two beautiful people who were made and sculpted by those God’s who only saw beauty in the physical: slim, busty beauties and lean muscular men, often overlooking such things as internal beauty: big hearts and good, kind and giving natures, accented with selflessness and generosity and thoughtfulness.  

     Looking at him, a bright glow in her eyes, only too willing to remove him of his wings, to have him walk, feeling that he did not truly belong – that he was not a Cupid but rather a mistake – she said, “Your task is special in that it will deliver you to your true fate, my little friend. What that is...well, nobody quite knows. But you’re very young, and sometimes one’s fate doesn’t reveal itself so soon in life.” She could not help but to feel a slight disgust as he planted his feet well into the mud, squirming his toes about in the vile, mushy and dirty substance. And that he seemed unaware of the dirt gathering underneath his toenails was a testament of his not belonging. “Instead of fourteen arrows, you will get seven. You must carve your arrows out of simple willow and fill them only half way. But that’s not all.” Her eyes became lit with a certain shadow, with a sort of nastiness not common in Cupid’s. “Your task is hardest of all, and it shall require a great deal of potency – such a potency as to be so powerful to make enemies fall head over heels for each other.”

     “Enemies?” he said.

     “Yes, enemies. You know...two people who loathe the very mention of each other, who become sickened by the very whisper of each other’s names. Two people whose sole purpose is to make the other person’s life miserable by appointment or will. You know... Enemies.”

     “Who do you have in mind?”

     With two in mind already – the worst of enemies since birth – Claudia and Marcus, neighbours across the field, she said, “Oh, I’m sure I can find someone suitable a task for you.”

     And despite the fact that his Bow and Arrow carving skills were far below standard, and despite that he could never shoot straight and could never fill his arrows with even his most valuable tears, he could not let her run him off, could not allow her to take his wings, could not allow her to win. Most of all, he could not allow her the satisfaction of being right. He did belong. He was born a Cupid, and he absolutely was not a mistake. With that, his heart fuelled with a certain bold ferocity, he said, “And what if I win? What will be my prize?” And to see him exhibit such determination against such odds, his fiery blue eyes, his portly fingers and his clumsy awkwardness in full assembly, displaying such gusto and hot-headedness was to truly question the will of the God’s.  

     And absolutely beaming, absolutely elated with such a thing as to put him in his place once and for all, to shatter his dreams of the idea of love – what it truly is, what it truly means – was the one thing that mattered most to her, and she said, “Well, I suppose if you win...I will just have to give you my wings.” Throwing a touch of arrogance and boorishness in for effect she continued, “I suppose I can sweeten the deal even more.” And, winking at him, absolutely sure of his failure, she said, “I’ll tell you what...if you win I’ll be your butler.” And she laughed, “Imagine that, me being somebody’s butler. Your butler!” And she continued to laugh, offering her hand, “is it a deal?”

     Brash and irritated, without hesitating another second he threw his hand out, “It’s a deal!” In that very moment all his worries – all his angst, surfaced in one overwhelming and largely uncomfortable rush of raw disintegrating self esteem, leaving him that much shorter, fatter and balder, somehow stealing away what remained of his natural rosy hue. Whatever strength he had before this moment it had been vanquished – removed from sight by such an impossible task. And like that – as though spilling a great and terrifying secret – Venetia said “Oh by the remember Claudia and Marcus, right?”

     A deep hollow well opened up in his chest at the very mention of those two. Like cat and mouse, like night and day, like...spiders and flies them two, they hated each other, always fighting, always cursing and saying bad things about each other. It was no secret that theirs was a tumultuous relationship seething with rage when they bumped into one another at the markets or on the farmer’s road or at school. It was no secret that their families hated each other, that they had been enemies for generations – the fight still raging over a plot of lush and fertile farmland to the south that to this very day crawled snug up against their own wide estates, becoming overgrown with cypress and oak; unkempt with a slew of bush and lively foliage and wild flowers, slowly falling back into the ancient landscape.

     With that – a hint of enmity about her – Venetia flew off. The sound of beautiful white wings flapping off in the distance seemed to drain him of life and will, reducing him to a wilting shag of bones and flesh. He let out a deep sigh, wondering for the life of him how he was going to accomplish such an impossible task. In that moment, all his natural traits seemed to rush out at him – traits that by all and large, seemed worth so very little when placed against such odds. Running it down on chubby fingers, he began with a note of insecurity rising up in his little heart, “First of all, you can’t carve a Bow.” He held his little Bow up, noticing for the first time just how weak and misshapen it was, how it did not hold nearly the glow of others.

     “Secondly, you can’t even carve an arrow.” His fourteen arrows were slightly bent, lacking that ‘true-shot’ quality most admired and looked for in such tools of love. Completely weakened, all his failures came to mind all at once beginning with all his misses. There was Abraham and Shahara, and Darius and Bernadette and Toros and Rica...and... And it finally dawned on him, seeming to tell him outright that he wasn’t the Cupid for the job. With his face becoming a deep sighing frown, his head sinking lower than ever, he let out a sigh, “ definitely can’t shoot!” It was true. He had tried all his life to shoot from the heart, and always he missed his mark. Always – like bad luck – his arrows flew to the left or to the right, or fell splat into the ground before ever reaching their mark, before ever hitting the heart of mortal beings, missing forever their fate: a date with true love and adoration.

     The one thing that truly struck him – the one thing that truly sucked the last of the confidence from his bones was the one thing he needed most, and like that his posture drooped as he sunk his feet deeper into the mud, contemplating whether it was his face that should be in the mud instead. He groaned to himself, “You’re twelve now and you have no idea of what love is. You have no clue what it is!” And he really did not know what it was that moved two people so incredibly that they would run through flames and head straight on into danger if only for a kiss. He did not know what it was that touched people in such a way where every waking thought – every sleepy vision before bed, every dreamy little thing contained the image of the object of their affection. It was true that he did not know what true love was. He pulled his feet out of the mud, shook his speckled grey wings and lifted from the ground wishing he had not taken the bet; the idea of a life without wings saddening him to no end.

      It was two days until Valentine’s and already he was on the losing end with no Arrows, no Bow and no idea how he was going to accomplish such a thing as to make two enemies who absolutely hated each other fall in love. Wandering aimlessly through the wilderness, floating on little breezes, morale emptying by the minute, he was taken by a bout of depression; the thought of being flightless working its way deep into his soul. And as much as he cared to ponder all the ways such a thing could be accomplished, the task before him held no realistic solution driving him deeper into a slump. It wasn’t until the sun set deep below the valley, right about the time the nocturnal residents of the forest began coming to life – when the daytime critters began settling in – that the world and hope seemed to abandon him, leaving him to his fate.

     Right there in the midst of twilight, when the forest drew dark and noisy with chattering fireflies, croaking bullfrogs, chirping crickets and foraging insects he saw something that would forever change his outlook on life. Tired and lazy from a day in the shade, hiding from the sun – hiding from life itself – on the banks of a beautiful river, he simply had no real ambitions of taking his little whittling knife out and making himself a Bow. Not tonight. And he felt even less inspired to carve arrows out of willows which he was ultimately certain were not true ‘Arrow making’ material to begin with.

     Losing to thoughts of living the rest of his days wingless and flightless, a sad, sad creature of love and desire (which he seemed to lack when it came to making people fall in love) he found himself a cozy tree stump off the bank of a little pool and wept, begging the world to forgive him his foolishness, the gravity of such a bet holding him against his will. It was there, next to his right shoulder, that he heard the little buzzing. Looking over, careful not to disturb the natural goings on Maricio was overrun with a certain heartfelt pang with what was taking place before him – particularly the natural procession that happens when prey meets predator in a natural game of life and death.

     Immediately saddened, his little heart crushed, his eyes wincing, he could only imagine the fear that was right this very minute engulfing the little firefly as it kicked and fought, punched and squirmed. And it occurred to him that the little firefly was probably on its way to evening dinner with its lady when it suddenly found itself caught in the web of a hungry spider. For a moment he imagined the little firefly, serenading his lady with songs of love and fantastic poems and sweet moonlit adventures, buzzing from flower to flower, twirling and dancing the nights away, spellbound by their very reflections upon the water’s surface.

     And like that, up in his brain, an image of love and serenity, as the Fireflies – hand in hand, arm in loving arm –held each other close. Mr. Firefly to his Missus, a sweet smile, prelude to a kiss, as if to look deep within her eyes, deep down to her soul, as if to sing his heart out...

Herald to my words my beloved special beauty queen

Heed my songs dearest friends of the forest

Hear my sonnet of true love my darlings

For the time is nigh for a spell of love to fall like stars upon your gaze

Time to kiss your hand and dip a single foot into the waters

To kiss your lips and take you with me to that special place you have never been before!

And in my arms forever shall you be!

Come away with me!

Let us fall deep into the realm of the fates as I make you my Queen!

Oh My glowing Queen!

Make me your King!

Sing with me the honey!

Turn it into nectar to soothe over us like blankets by the fireplace in the darkness!

Let the world of our passion heat our hearts with love and glory!

Let it sing of true love til the days of the world fall short of Romance!

Let it rush through us like mighty dams!

The blood that flows through our souls is alive with True Romance!

Let love bless us when our hearts are too spirited to see what beauty holds them captive!

     And like that beauty and poetry found its screeching end when the spider made its presence felt on the far edge of the web, seeming to say “Ah...! So pretty you are dear Mr. Firefly! So tasty you look! So succulent and warm and heavy, filled with luscious juices and yummy innards! A good meal for my pretties you shall make!” And like that, up in his mind, Maricio thought of little spider children home alone, hungry and crying, waiting for mommy to bring home the food! And like that, he could not truly pick a side – split down the middle when it came to such things, truly loving the game of life and death, finding beauty on all sides of the war that happens when one fights for its life and another fights for its food, the battle of hunger and food replaying in a twisted game of nature and fate.

     Taken away, he could only watch, rooting for the Firefly, that it might escape to live another day in the arms of its love. And the spider...well, another little morsel of prey would come along soon, and all its children would not go to bed hungry.  

     The firefly, gripped in fear, fought to no end, squirming, kicking and screaming as the spider drew closer and closer. A bulb of sadness took him by the throat as he could only watch the events unfold. With each step the spider took, the Firefly fought desperately and with each tiny kick Maricio prayed for its escape. And though Maricio had seen countless such events unfold, this one truly tugged at his heart, and if he were asked ‘why?’ he would say truthfully that he did not know the answer. And for the moment he and the Firefly were in the same boat, and like that, without thinking on it, he believed himself to be the Firefly, caught up in an impossible web, only to lose his wings, to come out the other side of a dire set of circumstances a born loser with no real adequate means of survival other than his natural glow. Like the Firefly he was adorned with no real defense mechanism by which to aid his chances of winning a bet he should not have – should never have – taken on in the first place. And Venetia was the spider, looking down on him, waiting to clip his wings and steal from him all that the world gave him.

     Kicking, fighting desperately as the Spider closed in, a miracle happened that he had never in his life witnessed before! The Firefly, looking deep into the heart of the eight-legged, eight-eyed beast, fighting for dear life – perhaps for love, perhaps to look one last time into the eyes and heart of his beloved Missus Firefly – broke free from its hold, instantly rising up into the air, lighting the darkness with a new outlook on life, a new fervor, racing away with such speed, its little heart beating furiously, running through with adrenaline, wiping tears of shock and terror free from their hold within his heart. And like that, mildly disappointed – for the little hungry Spider children – Maricio found something he had been looking for all along, something that he thought had abandoned him the moment he knew he couldn’t win: hope! In such a moment of dire escalation and need, he found hope in the things he loved most of all, the very thing which inspired in him true love: nature. The endless cycle of nature in all its vicious songs of life and death – one and the same!

     And like that – deeply determined – having found a new lease on life and reborn with a new sense of hope, he went to work under the full moon, looking for a heavy willow from which to carve his Bow. All along the river banks, about the pools of chirping glens and silent glades he looked and looked and looked, his heart quickly turning to despair as he could not find a willow thick and strong enough. And though he looked for those slender ones too from which to carve arrows, he saw they were in short supply, and right then and there he felt the hand of Venetia at work, drawing him into her trap like a cunning Spider, knowing full well that the best willows were deep on the other side of the Valley far to the west, a full day’s flight from here. And always the thought of being wingless haunted him, gave him chills just thinking of it.

     It wasn’t until morning that he found a suitable willow heft from which to sculpt a Bow that he stopped. And it was only then that he realized that he was so very far away from the city, lost amidst a shallow marshland filled with mosquitoes and dragonfly. Quickly he drew his small whittling knife and went to work, doing his best to carve one side lean, leaving but a thick heft in the centre as a handle. And truthfully he had only ever made one Bow in all his life and a few terribly bent Arrows, some of which he still had. After carving it to his liking – not perfect by any means – he set it out in the sun all day long, hoping to dry it while he went to work on seven slim shafts from which he carved Arrows which did not seem so bad to him. Others though would certainly make fun of him his lack of skill when it came to whittling out a decent Arrow, but that, he had to work out of his mind, constantly bringing back the image of the Firefly; its escape and its persistence, its bravery and its ability to find peace in the worst situations.

     All day long while the Bow and the seven Arrows laid out to dry he fashioned little heart-shaped rocks from slim stones, choosing just the right ones, scraping them against larger rocks until they resembled little rough ‘hearts,’ and just as the sky darkened and the rain began to fall he was finished. Quickly he wrapped the Bow and Arrow shafts in leaves and tied them with strips of willow to keep them dry. He slung them over his back and began the long flight home back to the city. And with Valentine’s Day beginning bright and early in the morning his task was failing miserably well before it had even started.

      He sighed and could not help but to be dragged down by thoughts of walking everywhere, wingless – a failed and stupid Cupid, a loser from birth, a failure of the Gods; the one that missed, the one that should never have been. It was after midnight – just as Valentine’s Day breathed its first breath of lovely air – that the torch lights of the city came into view. Tired, drenched and cold he flew over to the Gradius Estate where, just inside, only a few yards away, Claudia was fast asleep. Maricio, cuddled up beside the giant Wolfhound Agrippa for warmth, fell asleep to nightmares of wingless nights and long days of walking through the mud as beautiful winged Cupids high above tormented him. And with that, the night took him up in a ball of unease, hauling him down into a deep heavy slumber.

     Maricio, startled – wiping the slobber from his mouth – woke to low growls as the giant Wolfhound Agrippa hovered over him, breathing down his neck, sniffing the air about the corner of his Dog-house, his curiosity peaked by some unseen intruder, some unseen...thing. Maricio sat straight up, careful not to disturb the giant Agrippa from his curious search. Whether it was a brief image of his ethereal form, a scent, a sound, a wild telepathic ring, Maricio could not be certain, but it sometimes happened that a Cat would hiss and a Dog would bark directly at him frightening him into a corner, making him tip-toe on the boundary of what such animals could see.

     A quick jutting air slapped him out of his stupor as long shadows of the early evening sun splashed upon his face, making it painfully clear that the Estate – the house itself – was empty of Claudia’s presence. The house – left alive with only the movement of maids and butlers, Maricio looked to the north, past the gate, beyond lush vineyards and orchards, down a fine tree-lined farmer’s road, falling upon huge crowds in the distance piling into the city for a night of romance – a night for dancing, poetry, longing passion and sweet airy love. Off he flew toward the city gates, surprised and quite terrified, his heart filling with anxiety as thousands upon thousands of people gathered below.

     Straining his eyes far below, running them over a sea of creamy togas, colourful robes, fancy tiaras, belted ponies and saddled horses, he was on the lookout for perhaps the longest golden straightest locks in the Empire. “Oh Claudia! Where have you run off to?” Time was short and his task had not even begun. He released a whimper of concern, a dreadful whip rushing through his blood as his eyes darted quickly over vast crowds, the music, the drums, the trumpets, the wonderful stringed-instruments driving him mad. “Oh Maricio! You fool! You stupid, stupid Cupid! How could you! And like a stake through the heart, he noticed for the first time that his arrows numbered only five. He slapped his forehead in grief, while thick troubled tears rose up in his eyes. “Ta da da...! I’m dead! I’m really just dead!”

     He stretched his gaze as far as he could in every direction, scanning the crowds for Marcus, knowing full-well that amongst such vast numbers such a thing was impossible. As the sun set, washing the world over in shade, the world itself seemed to drown him in misery, sending wild pangs of distress through his blood. Crying full now – his whole world crashing down all around him – a dreadful lump in his throat busted through all thresholds of bravery, and right then and there all hope seemed like a distant frog croaking away its last breath, taken up in sharp talons of some unruly predator, snatched up and lost to the world forever, never to rise again.

     Maricio, fuelled by panic and desperation kept up his search well into the night as music, fire and dances filled wonderful stages under the light of countless torches, while heavily columned Forums drew great crowds to watch the Heroic plays of Julius Caesar and teeming bath houses played host to cunning Senators, great Generals and promising Captains. The night was alive with street performers, their fire breathing swells rising up on the air showcasing knife jugglers, magic shows and circus freaks as acrobats leapt from the backs of one horse to the next! Onlookers everywhere, spread like jelly this way and that, kissing, dancing, embracing the night and the festivities as wonderful poetry was read to the masses, as young boys chased young girls just beneath the eyes of drunken parents! And like that – alive and voracious and adventurous the masses cheered and hollered in great amazement!

     And the night for all but one was alive and true and beautiful as young and old alike embraced such adorable gifts such as sweet poems, strong ale, bouquets of wild roses, delicate carnations topped with colourful beads and sweet honey treats and delicious wines from the finest orchards. And what a mystery this thing love was when the whole world seemed to embrace that special one, holding them close and snug, never to let them go. And in that moment Maricio wished a wish that had him settling in for the night on the shores of a sweet lake under a swelling moon with a bed of tall comfortable grass beneath him as the nocturnal animals, critters and beasts came to life, opening their eyes if only to sing their praise, kiss the night and tell the world – all who would listen – just how truly alive they were in their little hearts and souls!

     All but one – all but Maricio joined in the delightful madness of lust and love and sweet tenderness, his deepest fears coming to light: that he just may discover his true fate in the arms of the world – walking, mile after mile after mile, his sore and aching feet there to remind a fool what it was to be a fool! Darting this way and that, he kept close on the trail of those who resembled his quarry to no avail. Ducking deep into alleyways, racing along crowded cobbled streets, over teeming hills, through busy gardens, around great pillared palaces where striking women danced by firelight and respected men talked of trade and finance and war – his heart sank deeper with every passing minute as the final hour crept closer and closer. “Fool! Why do you have to be such a fool Maricio?” And like that, four hours had passed without reprieve, without hope, without a catching glance or gifted sign of them. All hope was sunk like a Galley deep below the waters of the Mediterranean, forever lost. And then he thought of the Firefly; saw it cleared than ever; its final fight to freedom. With that, tired and frantic, he kept on his search, determined not to fail.

     With the midnight hour closing in, with the wine and the kissing and caressing in high spirits, the lust, the love and the romance brightly lit – racing through the blood of the citizens of Rome, lighting their souls – something happened that struck him like a thunderbolt, causing a swift spell of relief to charge through his blood, driving him forward with a quick heart and frantic pace, lifting his spirit but an inch that seemed like a mile.

     And far below – like a miracle – a group of teens caught up in a wild commotion raced forward through the gates of the great Colosseum, running, teasing and laughing while agitated guards gave chase, losing ground through the packed stadium as choirs sang their sweet love songs, filling every floor, rushing up through the crowds as thousands upon thousands of people danced and swayed, their candles lit, their spirits in good supply – their hearts fueled by love in the atmosphere. With a sudden yelling, a group of five girls tore straight through heavy throngs of people, the crowds thickly enveloping them. It was Claudia leading her Mares, racing up steep stairs, navigating her way up and around til she reached the top floor, always on the lookout for the guards, laughing all the while.

     On the far side of the Colosseum, like a conquering Hero shoving his way through huge milling crowds, racing past ale and peanut sellers and young girls with stacks of colourful fruit and honey-treats and young boys selling flasks of wine, bread, cheese and cured meats – Marcus led his own little wolf pack up the stairs, past mighty statues of Romulus and Reemus the founders of Rome, tall and proud amongst the Gods themselves, Jupiter, Ares, Dionyses, adorned in thick togas, fine robes, beautiful belts and stylish hair. And right then and there, as the hour drew very near with but five minutes left of Valentine’s Day, he saw her as plain as day – Venetia, looking directly at him, somehow wishing him failure, somehow pitying him, perhaps despising the Gods – wondering of their motives, questioning why in the world they would give someone like him wings, make him a Cupid, someone so...unCupid-like. Someone so hopelessly lost to his art, his ways and his culture.
     From amidst the crowds, giggling, and laughing at him, Tereos, Vicus, Vera and Samantha by her side, pitying him, offering their own little disparaging comments to do with a flight full of ‘pudginess,’ ‘balding baby’ and ‘cute little Nimrod’ he disliked her very much, once again thinking her a terrible Spider. And from afar they watched, their hands coming together in giggles, teasing and piling about each other, their wings tucked neatly behind them, their Arrows spent and Bows ready for sleep. In one final sting, she looked up at him, and then to her wrist, lightly tapping a golden ‘Moon-Dial,’ telling him directly that his time was up and that his wings would soon be hers – made into soft pillows or a door mat to welcome in her snobby guests. And like that, with time coming to a close, her head falling straight back, her hands coming together in great applause, she let out a terrible laugh, meant to do him the greatest harm with but just a glance, her vile temper – one uncommon for a Cupid – shining bright under the midnight moon.

      Tired and weary, on the verge of tears – a deep anger taking him, rising up from such depths – he bolted off in Marcus’ direction, his Bow and Arrows coming together in sweet communion, ready to dole out love and bliss. And to his own surprise, he saw Claudia too at the far side of the Colosseum, coming around, shoving her way through the crowds, her little band of Sultresses close behind, one of them yelling, pointing, “Over there! It’s Atillius and Cronos and Marcus!” And though he could not hear Claudia, he saw her mouth the words – a mild disgust etching out on the air – “Ooh...Marcus, you beast!” Right then and there Maricio saw her heart come to grips with the fact that though she hated him, her own closest friends – like sisters – were head over heels over Marcus.

     With the minutes passing quickly, both parties rushing toward each other, navigating the huge crowds, something happened that turned his luck in a way he had not anticipated. With the last two minutes closing in, the girls suddenly changed direction, racing back from whence they came through thick crowds of drunken lovers, turning the night into a game of Cats and Mice, luring the boys with fetching glances and teasing stares, until – bright and overwhelmed with sprite and thrashing blood crashing wildly through their hearts, the boys gave chase, as well as the guards who were now closing in, attempting to cut them off and pen them in. With the guards closing in on either side, the girls stopped in their tracks, until like fantastic little waves, the boys bumped directly into them, a world of smiles and bouts of laughter engulfing them.

     And like that, as the choirs sang their last, as people drank and cheered and hollered, as the fireworks broke out overhead in thunderous quakes of light and fury, echoing like giants against the stone walls of the Colosseum, massive crowds began their slow descent down the stairs, as great masses began piling out into the streets, a world of lust and jovial enterprise – love and unity – true romance spilling into the night. With that Konossus took Ambrosia by the hand while Atticus fell into the waiting arms of Jewelissus. Following in line Attillius grabbed Artemia close and kissed her lips just as Cronos reached out for the hand of Tayliah. Bumping into one another – a disappointed sneer in their eyes – Marcus and Claudia followed close behind, their hands well to themselves, filled with cheer and laughter for the night and the day if not for each other.

     And like that, adorned in heavenly moonlight, the fireworks, the dancing, the vast crowds seeming to shine just for them, Marcus and his Wolves and Claudia and her Sultresses – hand in hand – raced down the stairs and back up again, over and around as the guards closed in. With time running out, just over a minute, Maricio, a fair distance away – standing on the shoulder of Romulus – saw that the guards had both sides and the stairs covered and were slowly coming together, penning the little delinquents in. With the little lovers stopping altogether Maricio took his first arrow and slid it into place. Taking careful aim directly at Marcus – who, by instinct, threw himself in front of Claudia, a seeming forgiveness washing over – he pulled back on the Bow and held his breath. With Marcus in his line of sight, he let it go!

     Watching his arrow sail through the air – to his utter disappointment – it flew wide striking instead an elderly lady, who, overcome by some sort of mad love bug, took hold of an approaching guard. And to Maricio’s amazement, the guard (a tad grey himself) having instantly forgotten the little law breakers, obliged the elderly lady, instantly taking her up in both arms before dipping her low in a sweet melodious kiss, as though the music of love entered his soul and made him young again! In a whip of hot rushing blood, a new found stance on tonight’s event’s he rose up, taken by an absolute fresh air. And to his new found lover, much years his senior, he smiled deeply and said, “Who are we to deny ourselves such pleasures?” With that he dipped her low once again and kissed her.

     With the guards completely distracted, thrown off by such a thing as the Captain of the Guards taking up a new lover – an old lady at that – the young lovers dashed off, racing yet again down the stairs, through heavy crowds, shoving and laughing, hand in hand. Marcus and Claudia followed key, finding themselves bumping and touching, still very much annoyed, yet in the same boat as their friends. With that, ever on the move, hovering high above the crowds, his wings tiring, Maricio took another arrow up as they ran, a swell of desperation overtaking him. Again he took aim, held his breath and released the arrow!

     With two minutes to go til midnight, all hope seemed to abandon him, bringing him only terror and sadness and grief; endless thoughts of spending the rest of his days wingless taking him up in soft tearful whimpers. Though his arrow flew straight and true something happened that he did not expect. It happened that another individual stepped in front of Claudia as she ran, taking the brunt of the arrow, instantly becoming affected by its potency: half full and yet so overwhelming as to make one instantly fall madly in love. And to his own dismay, that person too – a young beautiful woman – instantly grabbed an older woman next to her, and together, like two little Fireflies alone in the dark, were caught up in a tumultuous new affair of the heart, kissing and touching, their tongues happy and delighted.

     Down the last set of stairs, and into a great foyer, shoving and pushing their way to freedom through heavy stumbling crowds the young lovers – unbeknownst to them – were now the entertainment, playing host to a crowd of arrowless Cupids who now hovered on the air and hung about the great statues, as well as those who walked amongst the crowds, as an intense air filled the grand corridors. With Maricio’s time quickly running out, he pulled another arrow out, aimed quickly and hauled back on the Bow. Letting it go, another wave of disappointment clutching his chest, the arrow flew forth slamming into an arguing couple before something amazing stole them away. And like a bout of supreme magic, the man took his wife close, looked deep into her eyes, brushed a soft hand over her solemn face and drew her in close and tight. And like that, their marriage – in one fell swoop – had been revitalized. From the verge of divorce to the throes of youthful passion, all Cupids in attendance, from King Delvecchio “The White” to Saffron “The Tasteful Lemon” to Seriah “The Dove” were impressed by the potency of his arrows, sending their kisses in his direction, wishing him the absolute best, rooting for him in the final minute.

     And with the last minute approaching, right as the little group of lovers split up, each couple to their own fates, Marcus and Claudia tore off, rushing through the gates to freedom, racing directly into the crowd, instantly losing themselves amongst groups of lovers and dancing troupes, to fire jugglers and sword swallowers, to caged Lions and Hyenas, losing the guards one last time.  Maricio, aimed another arrow yet again, held his breath and released. And as if the Gods sent all their powers down to wash him the bowels of disappointment and utter failure, his shortcomings were quite impressive as his ‘second to last arrow’ opened up a world of controversy when two young men, close friends – companions – were suddenly struck by love. In a moment that defined their relationship, bringing to light the truth – what others suspected already – they looked deep into each other’s eyes, drew close to one another, threw their arms tight around and kissed passionately as thousands seemed to carry them off.

     With his heart crashing wildly in his chest, his tears falling like tiny raindrops, he breathed a final sigh, taken by misery – hating himself, his foolish, foolish self. With no more power, no more strength and no more guiding light, all hope was dashed in the wake of a terrible bet, lost to the selfish behaviour of a terrible Spider whose only wanting desire was to keep him down; demeaning him if only to keep herself feeling afloat. In the last minutes, as Marcus ran and Claudia followed, through the crowd, round the horses and through the stables – the terrible dirt tainting her gown, setting her heart to flight – she yelled out, “Marcus!” A helpless look in her eyes brought him over. In a moment that drew him forth, she said, “My gown... It’s going to ruin!”

     In that moment, all hatred seeming to dissipate, he closed in, placing his back to her. In a moment that seemed utterly rude to her, he turned back to her, a funny look in his eyes, “Well? Are you just going to stand there or what?”

     A subtle smile splashed over her face while a funny tickle seemed to wash through both their hearts, and like that she hopped on his back, wrapping her legs about him. And like that he hoisted her up on his back and carried her over the hay and the dirt, through the smelly stables and on toward the river to meet the others near the old wall.

With a world of sorrow engulfing him, a deep dark sadness taking him up in pitiful arms, with all light failing him in the final seconds, Maricio, his tongue sticking out, overrun with tears, drew his last arrow, closed his eyes, aimed in a general direction when a final last thought of the little Firefly entered his mind, seeming to give him a certain feeling deep down in his soul. With the last few seconds ticking down he pulled back and released the arrow, not caring to watch it sail through the night, not caring to watch it miss his final target in the last seconds of the night. Unbeknownst to him – hovered high about the city, their fingers crossed, their hearts beaming out to him, their hopes and prayers with him – hundreds of Cupids looked on, watching his arrow sail through the night, going, going....gone! With his eyes closed, his lungs taken up in gusts and tears, wailing full, his heart broken and lost, a sudden cheer struck him up in his brain as a loud ruckus filled the night with applause somehow stealing him away, seeming to bring him back from the edge. And like that, his world had changed forever.

     Upon opening his eyes, rubbing the tears from them, catching his breath, his blurred vision brought to him an image; a wonderful image that seemed to stop time itself in the last seconds of night came to him with a sudden timbre sounding through as a wave of laughter and merriment closed in around him with the sound of beating wings and the sound of joy. And what he saw, what picked his heart back up, giving it wings, rescuing it from the depths of darkness was the most profound gift to ever grace the world. Crying full, his breath stolen by heavy gasps, the air around him seeming to glow, seeming to warm him, seeming to touch his soul, was one of pure desire and passion. Drawing a sigh of relief, wiping fat tears from his face, his fate was revealed to him in the last seconds, and like the Gods themselves came down to scold him and warn him his stupidity, his actions – what he saw was worth a thousand Fireflies escaping a thousand Spiders.

     With a host of beautiful Cupids – both great and wise – surrounding him, offering their praise, an air of great surprise filling the air what he saw brought him great relief, causing him more tears, seeming to gift him with a greater sense of wisdom than many a Cupid had been adorned with. And there she was, his very own Spider – Venetia – looking on, disappointed, taken up with envy and jealousy, her sheer beauty lacking grace and charm and wholesome goodness. With King Delveccio and Sheehara “The Wise Opal” nodding their approval, others came round patting him on the shoulders, looking upon him with great admiration, it was the young and fruitful Seminy “The Flower” who came up beside him, placed her arm around him and said, “Wow! That was a great shot! I’ve never seen anyone hit two moving people through both their hearts with their eyes closed! Can you teach me how to do that?”  

     Bewildered and utterly amazed, his world coming back to him full, bright and drumming with glory and heartfelt praise, he saw that – as the young lovers made it over the mud and through the stables, something amazing and bright and warm and fuzzy overcame them, and like that, standing amidst throngs of lovers, they too could not help but to come together in holy union of love and tenderness, entering the throes of passion by moonlight and starlight. And he saw indeed that his arrow – shot with utter hopelessness, carelessness and abandon – found the sweetest mark to ever grace any Cupid’s arrow, catching both Marcus and Claudia through the hearts. And like that, in a moment of utter shock and awe it became clear to him, that, while he carried her on his back over the hay and the mud and on through the stables, the arrow had slammed straight through her back, finding her heart, plunging deep into his as well in one fine swoop, sending wave of true love through both their hearts.

     And like that, the final seconds come and gone, turning the night to early morning, and from somewhere over Great Empire of stone Giants – Courts, Libraries, Forums, Theatres and Mansions a great bell chimed once again, seeming to say to the proud citizens of Rome, “Yes my friends...! This has indeed been another successful night, as love had yet again come together under a starry sky, fulfilling the dreams of the Gods, finding peace and wonder, dance and song and glory and praise!” As Marcus and Claudia – gripped by passion and true love, swept up by a higher fate – fled into the darkness and round a corner, Maricio wiped the last of his tears and whimpered a little whimper before a vast crowd of Cupid’s surrounded him, praising him, looking upon him in wonder, the strength of his arrows – only half full – the subject of great entertainment.

     King Delvecchio placed an arm around him as fires drew to coals, as people drank and caressed and lovers kissed all about – saying to him, “My, my...Maricio...” His hand closed in, hovering just above the hilt of his Bow, “May I?” And with a nod from Maricio King Delvecchio took up his Bow, examining it closely, a questioning look winning him over, “Willow! This is made of willow brush!” Maricio nodded. It was then and there that King Delvecchio raised his arm, looking high upon the air, pointing at a particular Cupid who now seemed to be cowering in fear, a sad look drawing upon her face as she hid amongst the crowds. It was Venetia. King Delvecchio waved her down. “Come here child! A bet has been won! Now is the time to fulfill that bet.” In a moment that seemed to crush her – seemed to draw the light from her eyes and suck the beauty from her face – revealing her true nature as a selfish brat whose only concern had to do with beauty of the flesh.

     Sullen and terrified, a lump welling in her throat, Venetia came out from the crowd of Cupid’s and stood before Maricio, looking down at him, not with bitterness or sour dismay, but rather stunned and surprised, rendering her speechless. In a single heartfelt moment, with all hope gone and lost and taken up by darkness and despair – with a sense of faith – he triumphed. King Delvecchio said to her, “Come forth and honour your bet, young Venetia.” And closing in on him she could feel it – something about him. Something overwhelming about him. Something utterly beaming. A strange power he did not seem to be aware that he possessed. It was this power, this selfless act of the heart that guided him in the end. There could be no other explanation.

     Venetia, kneeling before him, looking up into his eyes, lowered her head as fat droplets fell from her face, her soul taken up in defeat and loss, the idea of a life without her great white wings seeming to cause her great grief, and like that, amongst all her peers, all her friends and all other Cupid’s she had wronged during her tender – she bellowed loud and terrible, begging him, “Please...! Please Maricio...! Please don’t take my wings! Please...! I’m begging you! Don’t take them! I’ll be your butler! I’ll be your butler forever and ever and ever if you just – please don’t take my wings!” And then and there he held a power so grand, so outrageous and so outstandingly absolute, that, even with his praise and honour and glory well deserved, he was still unable to cause another person’s pain or discomfort.

     And with that, he touched her head, in the same way a boy pets his dog’s head after scolding it for misbehaving. “ could you think me such a monster? How could you look deep into my soul and judge me? How could you be so willing to strip me of my wings? And do not seek to defend yourself this one account. Surely, all in attendance, understand full well that you would have had me walking this very minute, had you won tonight’s bet.” And it was true. And like that he said, “Perhaps I will make a fine pillow out of yours.” He winked at King Delvecchio, “Perhaps I can make a floor mat. Such a thing would be luxurious and warm and oh so comfortable.” And like that, his eyes still red and swelled from his own tears, he knelt down before her, “Now, please do tell me why I should not take your wings?” He drew confident in his moment, “A bet is after all...a bet, is it not?”

     Crying full out, she nodded, pleading, “Please...! I’ll do anything!”

     With a hand on her head, taking his moment and offering her his own truthful wisdom he said straightforwardly, “ have been a sour note on all our hearts for a long while now, and by all rights and accounts, you should be made to walk the earth for the rest of your days, until all your trespasses are accounted for and dealt with.” And she cried louder and wailed harder, the more he spoke the truth, finally telling her what she needed most to hear, “there are many here tonight – this very minute, who, you have dealt bad blows with your rash behaviour, your crass words and dispirited ways, your bad attitude and your selfish, hurtful ways.” He looked to them all, those weak ones she looked down upon and made fun of, “Dear friends, brothers and sisters, wise and small, strong and weak alike... I ask you for your heart’s content in delivering a final stroke here in this hour under the new morning just after midnight. What should I do?”

     And like that – surprised that he would call upon them their hand of justice, they began to mumble and look to one another, “Should I take her wings?”

     A wild cheering applause stole over them as they remembered her ways, how she tore into them with utter callousness and disrespect, looking down on them, uttering their imperfections, somehow forgetting her own when such. And overtaken with the very idea that she needed to learn a valuable lesson from this they cheered, “Take her wings! Take her wings! Take her wings!”

Maricio, standing above her waved them to silence with a single hand. He leaned down, a hand on her shoulder. “I shall take your wings Venetia.” He looked for approval from the King, and without hesitation, he did approve.

     And she cried full out, all her wrongs coming to light within her sunken heart, her posture bent over like a snail, her hands over her face. And Maricio’s next words struck her like the hand of the Gods sending her off to bed without dinner, “I shall take your wings...” he let his decision hang on the air a long while before continuing. “I shall not take your wings forever, no. I can never be that cruel. And worry not dear Venetia, I will do no such thing as make a pillow or a rug, no. I will keep them safe and unharmed until you can prove to all of us here that you deserve them back. I will impart on you the same challenge that you have imparted on me: to make two enemies who absolutely hate each other fall in love. Like me, you shall have three days to carve a Bow and seven Arrows from simple willow and fill them with only half of your potency.” And like that, justice had been served. “Be warned Venetia, that every single year I will pick two enemies for you.” And like that his words slammed home, “See you next Valentine’s day Venetia.  And we may then see the true power – the true love of a Cupid’s Arrow.”

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