She didn’t look angry anymore, but rather tired instead. “I’m not Aphrodite, child, though I know you were being honest in what you said.”
“Then who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Hera.”
I didn’t know much about Hera then, only that she was the queen of the gods. I’d never met her or, indeed, any of the other gods before now. I lowered my head respectfully. “I’m honoured to meet you.”
“And you. What is your name?”
“I’m called Echo.”
Hera smiled at me. She’d been beautiful even when she was angry, but her smile made her look truly radiant. At that time, she could be kind just as often as she was cruel. “Where are your friends?”
“They’re hiding.” And I was being honest.
Hera laughed and the storm stopped, though water continued to drip from my eyelashes. I sneezed and Hera removed her cloak, wrapping it around my shoulders. I didn’t know then what I do now. A god never does anything without expecting something in return. Back then, though, all I knew was that I felt warm… and safe.
“Do you need to leave?” I asked, not sure how long I could have to spend with this woman who’d shown more of an interest in me than my own mother.
Hera shook her head. “My husband can wait. I am thirsty, though…”
One of the older nymphs, Ampelos, walked towards Hera, carrying a goblet of wine. She curtsied and passed the wine to the queen. “I offer my apologies for our lack of hospitality, my Lady. Would you like to join us in our feasting and dancing?”
Hera took the wine and sipped, though never took her eyes off me. “I believe I would like to speak to your sister. Tell me, Echo, what gifts do you have?”
“I like to tell stories,” I answered honestly.
Hera smiled. “Then tell me one,” she invited.
I hesitated. I was still young in telling stories and I didn’t believe I would be good enough to entertain a goddess. Besides, I knew all too well what happened to someone who displeased a god…
“There is no need for you to fear me,” Hera said, as if she could read my mind – and perhaps she could.
I had no idea how powerful the gods were.
Holding the goblet in one hand, Hera slid her arm around me and guided me over to a fallen tree log. She sat down and settled me next to her. “I won’t be displeased with any of the stories you tell me.”
“What if it’s a story you already know?” I asked in a small voice.
“There are very few stories that people don’t already know. The true skill lies in making a story engaging enough even if I have heard it before.”
I hesitated, but then opened my mouth. I was desperate to please Hera and so I began to sow the seeds of our friendship – through telling a simple story.