Hidden amongst curtains of trees, the young maiden Asteriope wept by a pond. Her tears fell onto the water’s surface, rousing the nymph Daeira from her slumber. She emerged from its depths to find the maiden.
“Girl, why are you crying?” the nymph inquired.
“My betrothed has left me for another,” Asteriope grieved. “He said I was not beautiful enough.”
This particular water nymph bore scars from the wrath of humankind. The years had gone and the bruises had faded, but the gratitude she was paid endured. The white scars still stood as a stark divide across her scales. In the past, Daeria had retreated to her pond for sanctuary and never again chanced bestowing humans with gifts or wisdom of any kind. Yet, Asteriope’s plight struck the nymph’s heart. She was compelled to offer the maiden a gift.
“I will give you three wishes,” Daeria said, “for your words have so moved me.”
“I wish for beauty so dazzling that it rivals the sun,” Asteriope declared, “a heart that can never again be broken, and a life longer than any man’s.”
“Then it shall be,” Daeria replied.
And so, Asteriope was transformed into a being of solid diamond. Her skin shimmered in the sunlight with more brilliance than any star in the sky. Her heart was now stronger than any in the land. Her flesh would never decay.
Despite her hardened heart, Asteriope could feel it still ache with the pain left by her former betrothed. Bewildered, she clawed at her chest, but found it did nothing to soothe her anguish. She sharpened a stick to impale her breast, but it splintered against her skin. She tried again with stone, but it crumbled; with an iron spear, but it shattered. She suffered not, but the relief she so desperately sought evaded her.
She hastened to the house of her betrothed and pounded on the door. When he answered, he lost his sight, for Asteriope shone so brightly. She watched as the eyes that once cut her with merciless judgement dulled. Yet, this did not satisfy Asteriope’s heartache and deepened her scorn. She left her former love in his door, groping in his darkness.
Asteriope journeyed until her home disappeared over the ridge, but his hollow stare followed her with every step.She paused and held her hand up to the sky. The hand refracted the sunlight and sent a million rays spiraling through the air to form her divine halo. No man could look upon her, for she was above their flawed vision.
She lowered her hand. But the hands of other women were not composed of diamond. Men could see the hands, feet, hips, hair, eyes, and mouths of less perfect women. With purpose, Asteriope began to walk once more, driven, perhaps by this thought—the mindlessness of men. Or perhaps by the ache her glittered fingers picked at like an old wound.
The diamond maiden wandered the land, blinding every man she met. The women of the villages begged her to stop, but Asteriope was deaf to their pleas. The condemned men’s eyes corroded away in her searing light. After she had her way with them, the men’s empty sockets were incapable of holding anything: disdain, contempt, a leer, or lustful gaze. Even a tender, yearning glance was impossible, but Asteriope did not think of that. The women would mourn, but Asteriope would turn and leave as she sought the next town.
The people of the land soon went to the King. Upon hearing of Asteriope’s unrelenting cruelty, he sent his army to meet her.
And so a moving city of soldiers poured forth into the countryside. These men were not trifled by the affections or the allures of women. They were men of sweat, blood, and loyalty to the King. When the diamond maiden was spotted, they charged, releasing a roar. Meek were the arrows that fell to her feet, brittle were the blades that crumbled against her skin, and blind were the bodies that fell to their knees before her. The last survivors of what had once been the King’s army formed a barricade to prevent her advance. For days and nights, Asteriope stood before them without food, water, or rest.
When all of the swords were bent, arrows lost, and supplies devoured, Asteriope finally moved. As she walked through the barricade, her luminous body was followed by a shadow. The fortified rows of soldiers dissolved into a mass of the lost, wandering without aim and colliding with each other. No man could touch her.
Asteriope caressed the carved flesh of her bosom. No fault to be found. The nymph had kept her word for she was better than them; she was cured of human weaknesses.
Eventually, others came to lead the army of blind men home. At the news of their defeat, the King went to the wise nymph of the pond for help. He fell to his knees at the water’s edge and wept for his people. Hearing tears fall onto her pond, the nymph emerged from the waters once again.
“King, why are you crying?” Daeira asked.
“A woman, no longer a woman but a monster of diamond has besieged my kingdom,” he lamented. “She wanders the land and blinds men with her beauty for no reason I can discern. I come here asking you to save my people. I would sacrifice my own sight—No! I would sacrifice my life if that would appease you and save them.”
Horrified at her own doing, Daeira gave the King a sword coated with diamond dust. She instructed him to give it to his queen, a woman by the name of Hemera. The King thanked the nymph and returned to the palace with the sword. He hastened to his wife, but a frightful dread overtook him. The demon had not harmed a woman yet, but the King could not take another step toward his queen’s chambers.
Instead, he donned his armor and wrapped a blindfold around his eyes. Led by a maid, he departed to meet Asteriope in battle, however Queen Hemera stood before the palace gates.
“My dear King, what feat do you intend to accomplish while wearing that?” the Queen inquired as she removed the blindfold from his eyes.
The King had no choice but to confess to all that had transpired. He would die for his people, but he would not lie to his wife.
“I did not choose to marry you for protection,” the Queen said as she took the sword from his grasp. “I married you so we may protect each other.”
With a kiss she left her husband and began the preparation of her own armor. When the Queen was ready, she took up guard of the last village untouched by Asteriope’s gaze and waited. Before long, a flare could be seen atop the hill. As she descended the sun’s rays played off of her skin, casting iridescent phantoms onto the countryside. The woman of diamond came to a halt, and the Queen could see that not even morning’s light could pierce through the jagged, dull lump buried in her chest.
“Move,” Asteriope commanded Queen Hemera.
The Queen did not move.
“If no man can gaze upon me and no man can halt my advance,” Asteriope spat, “what threat then is a woman? Queen or peasant, it matters not.”
“If your heart was ever moved by the love of another, abandon your revenge,” the Queen urged her.
“I will not!” Asteriope said in defiance. “Your husband will forget any memory of your ailing beauty once he sees me. Know it is because I am more beautiful than your flesh and blood will ever be!”
“Diamond cannot bleed, but it does not mend,” Hemera replied.
The Queen raised her sword, iron and diamond glistening in the sun, but Asteriope stood by, smiling. Queen Hemera brought the blade down upon her head. Asteriope felt nothing, but she heard a thunderous crack and her vision split. The former maiden’s lips parted, her eyes wide kaleidoscopes of a fractured Hemera, but Asteriope’s body shattered and a shower of shimmering shards burst forth.
Queen Hemera sheathed her sword and turned back toward the palace, leaving the glittering specks of Asteriope in dirt.
There was much rejoicing throughout the land and a feast was held at the palace in honor of their savior. Queen Hemera, however, only sat in her throne. She did not dance a single step and did not eat a morsel.
“What is troubling you so?” her worried king asked.
“I staved off further suffering, yes, we should be glad,” the Queen agreed, “but for those already lost, I shall mourn.”
“Yes, forgive me,” the King relented.
He took his seat beside his queen, while others danced and ate a plenty. Only when her king looked upon her with the kind eyes that she loved so, did Hemera allow herself a smile.
Daeira, having left the comfort of her pond, spent her days gathering the shards of diamond, careful to leave none behind. She placed them in the sky—a reminder to all that beauty means nothing with a heart of stone.
*Previously published in Avant – Rowan University’s Undergraduate Literary Magazine
Laura Kincaid is an emerging writer, currently earning her MA in Writing at Rowan University. Her work has been featured in Selah and Avant. In 2018, her poetry received an honorable mention in the Denise Gess Awards. Follow her on twitter @WizardOfWaffles or on her website laurakincaidmusings.wordpress.com.