Once there was a woman who yearned for children but could not bear any. In desperation, the woman pleaded with the gods to give her a child.
Zeus, the king of all the gods, took pity on her and said “I will grant you a daughter but before midnight ends on the girl’s eighteenth birthday, she will breathe no longer,
It is the price I ask of you in return for her life.” The woman, foolishly believing that eighteen years was more than enough, agreed to the god king’s condition.
When the girl turned sixteen, Zeus sent his son Apollo, the sun god, to observe how the girl was living the short life she had been granted.
When Apollo found the girl in Athens, he became enchanted. Her hair was ebony black. It flowed in waves to adorn her soft, alabaster skin. Her nose was delicate and her full lips were rosy red.
However, it was her eyes that truly captivated him. Her eyes were strikingly blue. They were not a regular shade of sky-blue but they were a clear, crystal hue.
Her mother had named her Asteria, a name befitting such a lovely maiden.
Soon after, Apollo found himself flying on his golden chariot to where she was night by night.
He would watch her sit under a large wisteria tree near the outskirts of Athens to stare at the pastel moon.
He wondered what she saw there for the night sky was too dark even when the moon was at its brightest. Although he was tempted to, he never revealed himself to her.
He did not intend on tainting her radiance with his loneliness.
It was on her seventeenth birthday, when Apollo fell asleep waiting for the girl, that they finally spoke.
He awakened to find the girl sitting on the back of her legs below the branch he was seated on with the long skirt of her white silk gown splayed over her knees.
“I would like to thank you” Asteria said in a resounding, pure voice.
“Why so?” He asked as he gazed at her figure from above the branch. Asteria’s attention, however, was not on him for she was looking up at the night sky lost in thought.
“For keeping me company” she replied as she tilted her head back to look in his direction.
Although he was certain that she could not see him, he could not help but draw further back into the shadows.
“Are you not scared? I am but a mere stranger to you” Slight apprehension was evident in his voice.
He admired her for her boldness but he could not help but wonder if she had no sense of good judgment.
“It is enough that I know you do not wish to bring me harm. Tell me then, why should I tremble in your presence?”
He studied her for a moment. Did he want her to be wary of him? Apollo said nothing but Asteria knew that his silence only symbolized the beginning of their friendship.
Days, weeks, and months passed much like the night they had first spoken, and Apollo found himself falling deeper and deeper for Asteria.
He did not know when his feelings began to change from fascination to love but he knew it was love. When she smiled, he sighed in contentment. When she laughed, he laughed with her.
When she wept, he felt his heart constricting at the mere thought that she was hurting.
It was in those times, when they sat talking under the dimness of the moon,
that he knew what it meant to love someone so much that your love blinds you of the simple truth that one day they will slip away from your fingers.
Apollo had forgotten the one thing that led him to her in the first place. He had forgotten that soon he would have to say goodbye.
It was the day before Asteria’s eighteenth birthday that it all came barreling into him with such ferocity that it left him breathless and lost.
He arrived at their frequent meeting place at the same time he always did, but that day she was the one waiting for him.
He slipped onto the branch he usually sat on and cleared his throat to signal his arrival. Asteria did not turn her head; she already knew it was him.
“We have known each other for a long time now and I still do not know what you look like” Asteria mused.
“You will know when I deem you worthy enough of seeing my face” Apollo teased with a playful smirk gracing his handsome features.
“Well, then kind sir, I hope you deem me worthy enough for a present. I would like one for tomorrow’s celebration” Asteria laughed gaily, her lips set into a wide smile.
“What celebration will be held tomorrow that you would require a gift from me?” Apollo raised an eyebrow at her. Asteria looked at him with mock hurt and then she began to laugh again.
“It will be a whole year since our odd friendship began. It will be my eighteenth birthday”
Her words struck him like an arrow to the chest. How could he have forgotten? It was then that Apollo remembered that soon he would lose her.
He would not be able to hear her laughter, or see her eyes light up under the moonlit night anymore. Soon, she would cease to exist.
The next morning, Apollo did not make his usual rounds across the midday skies. He wasted no time and sought out his father.
Although Apollo was determined, he knew it was futile to ask Zeus to let Asteria live.
“My son, she is only a mortal. Soon, her beauty will fade. It is better for her to die now, while her beauty remains freshly engraved in your memory” Zeus laughed but Apollo was not amused.
“You do not understand, father. It is not her beauty that I adore. I adore the radiance that she possesses.
It is the reason why I have grown to love her,” Apollo was quiet as he finished his sentence.
When Zeus saw the sadness that lurked behind his son’s eyes, he was taken aback.
Perhaps his son truly loved the mortal maiden, but even if he did, Zeus could do nothing to keep her from her fate.
“It is not my wish to torment you, Apollo. Even if you sincerely loved her, her fate has already been sealed. It is the price of the life that she had been given”
Apollo knew that what Zeus said rang with the truth. No matter how much one tried to resist their fate, they cannot change it. Even if Apollo could spare her from dying now, she will still die.
So it was with a heavy heart that Apollo returned to the place where they usually met.
She was waiting for him. Instead of hiding, he revealed himself to her and for the first time, her blue orbs met his golden eyes.
“My name is Phoebus Apollo..."
"The son of Zeus” Asteria finished for him. It was not a question, it was a declaration. For a moment he thought she was furious at him. He supposed she had a right to be.
His father had given her a cruel fate and now she must think that his son had been toying with her. Instead of harsh words, he felt her arms twining around his neck.
“I would like to thank you” she whispered. He wrapped his arms around her waist, desperate to hold onto her while he still could. He knew that in a few moments he would lose her forever.
“Why so?” Apollo felt his voice crack.
“For keeping me company”
Apollo held Asteria tighter. He found himself unable to speak, unable to breathe. That moment, the only thing he saw was her face, her eyes, and her radiance.
He could feel the dampness of her skin as he placed his hand on her cheek.
“I’ve come to bid you farewell” his voice was shaky and his eyes bore unshed tears.
“Will you accept my parting gift?” Asteria nodded, and with her consent, Apollo leaned down, their lips meeting for the first and final time.
She did not say it aloud for she had conveyed the message through the soft caresses of her lips “I love you”.
Apollo felt her body go limp against his arms, he felt her last breath leave her body, and he felt it when her heart had stopped beating erratically against his chest.
Artemis was almost finished with her rounds when she heard a cry. It was not a cry of anger, or sadness. It was a cry of both.
She flew to where the sound resonated from, curiousity filling her heart. It was then that she saw her brother, clutching a mortal maiden's lifeless body against his chest.
His anguished cries gripped at her soul. She had never seen him like this, not even when their mother had died. The Apollo she knew was strong.
She moved towards his form, his cries growing weaker and turning into sobs that racked his body. He was on his knees, cradling the girl's body like one would a fragile treasure.
Placing her hand on his shoulder, she willed him to look at her.
His golden eyes met hers and she stilled.
"Please," Apollo whispered softly "Do not let me forget her memory"
Artemis did not move. The moment she looked into his eyes, she felt his all-consuming grief. She felt his anger towards himself, and she felt his longing for the girl.
Without another word, Artemis did as her brother had asked.
It was Artemis who honored the maiden whom her brother had loved dearly.
It was Artemis who lit up the night sky, immortalizing the memory of Asteria’s radiance and beauty for all to witness.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal” -Richard Puz Asteria is derived from the word Asteri meaning “star”