By some means or another, Aphrodite had managed to lose favor with Demeter and had, as a result, lost her Goddess powers and been rendered as helpless as a mere human. She was desperate to win back her powers and approached Demeter, asking how she might seek to atone for her misdeeds. Demeter arched one eyebrow and considered the request, knowing that she had a difficult task she needed performed and thought perhaps they might strike a deal.
“Fine,” Demeter said. “I have a deal for you. In this box,” she pulled out an ornate box that glowed from the inside, “is The Essence of True Love. I took it from you when you were rendered powerless and my daughter, Persephone, is in the Underworld and needs it. She is with her husband for the next 6 months and left too quickly to take it with her. If she does not have true love for her husband, her stay will be unbearable. If you will take The Essence of True Love to my daughter in the Underworld, I will reinstate your Goddess Powers.”
“But it will take weeks to get to the Underworld without my Goddess Powers!” Aphrodite argued. “How can I do that?”
“Hey,” Demeter shrugged. “You came to me, Babe. Take it or leave it.”
Aphrodite considered the offer. “Fine. I’ll do it. Give me the box.”
Demeter carefully handed her the precious box. “Now remember,” she cautioned, “You hold The Essence of True Love in your hands. If you aren’t careful, it could be lost to the world forever.”
“I’ll be careful,” Aphrodite assured her.
“Another warning,” Demeter said. “You have one rule to follow as you travel and that is that you must not save the drowning man.”
“Wha?” Aphrodite asked.
“That’s all,” Demeter said, “Do not save the drowning man. Now off with you. Every moment you tarry, my daughter spends an unbearable moment with a man she does not love.”
Aphrodite set about her task. She traveled for many days, making her way to the Underworld. On her way, she met a young human man named Galwarth who was on a similar task. His job was to take a message to the Boatman of the River Styx. They traveled together for quite some time and Aphrodite found herself warming to him. Together, they laughed and talked and his presence made the trip much more enjoyable. Just before they reached the River Styx, her traveling companion regretfully took his leave and promised to meet up with her later. He had to take care of a side job before approaching The Boatman and embraced her warmly as he left. Aphrodite took the night to rest and later the next day, reached the River Styx. The Boatman took her across and she made her way through the Underworld to where she would find Persephone to deliver The Essence of True Love. As she picked her way through the murky swamp, grimacing at the mud that lapped her feet, she was surprised to hear her name called. As she squinted in the poor light, she was shocked to see Galwarth struggling in the depths of a tide pool in obvious distress. He must have traveled while she slept and arrived before her! She sat down The Essence of True Love and tried to make her way through the muck to get to him. As she walked, the mud became deeper and more cloying. She reached out as far as she could and still could not grasp his hand. If she could just go a little deeper into the mud or reach out a little further to him, she could save him. It seemed the further she reached, the further he sank into the tide pool and the more mired in the muck she bacame. Suddenly, Demeter’s words rang in her head. “Don’t save the drowning man!” She pulled up suddenly and knew what she had to do. Carefully, she made her way out of the muck.
“What are you doing?” Galwarth cried. “You can do it, just a little further!”
As she emerged from the mud, which was now covering her lower half, Aphrodite pushed the tears from her eyes with her muddied hands. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’ll have to save yourself. I can’t do it for you.” She walked back to where she had set down the box containing The Essence of True Love. The glow that had been so vibrant before was barely visible, but it intensified as she picked it up again.
With tears still in her eyes, she wished him well and walked on without looking back. As she walked, the glow of The Essence of True Love became nearly blinding. She found Persephone and presented her with her mother’s gift. Persephone opened the box and The Essence of True Love flooded the Underworld, pouring over Persephone, her husband, Aphrodite and the rest of the world.
She returned to Demeter and was given her Goddess Powers again and congratulated on a job well done. She never knew what became of Galwarth.
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