Paris looked over his cattle quietly, atop Mount Garagarus, and enjoyed the stillness of late afternoon. He would need to return home soon.
Behind him came the murmurs of voices and he spun to face them, startled from his internal ponderings. He almost could not believe his own eyes when he saw Hermes, escorting three goddesses, crossing a grassy plain to reach him. He wondered if they were lost, somehow.
“Paris,” Hermes said, and his voice boomed in the open air, “We have been sent by Zeus. You are to serve as judge for these three,” the broad gesture of his hand encompassed the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.
Paris’ heart lunged upward, and he wondered if he could die of excitement.
“What am I to judge, Hermes?” His voice was sure, though he felt it ought to have trembled the way his hands trembled as he crossed his arms.
“Which is the most beautiful.”
Paris realized instantly why Zeus had left the choice to him.
“I wish to speak with you before you deliberate,” Athena said, a wicked smile on her face that offset the strange emptiness of her stormy grey eyes.
“Only after I have had a few words,” interjected Hera. Her chocolate hair fell around her shoulders, curling at the ends. Her amber eyes smiled at him though her face was suspicious.
Aphrodite simply smiled at him, her teal eyes lit up with a secret no one else could see. Her blonde hair curled itself around her body, long and twisted, and Paris struggled to look away.
Hermes said, “Well, Paris? Have you made your choice?”
Paris smiled at him and nodded, though he could taste his lunch in the back of his throat. He knew Zeus had put him in an unpleasant position to save himself; he knew that two of the three women, their eyes scrutinizing each other, would hate him by the end of this day. It was not something he was looking forward to, and he hesitated with his decision.
Certainly he would be chastised for dismissing Athena’s promises, but Aphrodite offered him something he’d coveted above all else. He wondered if the women had put thought into their bribes – if they’d puzzled over what he would desire most. If so, Hera had failed in a most surprising way. Perhaps, if she had been bribing the King it would have been more successful.
Paris, however, was the son of a herdsman, and his desires were much less grand than those of a King.
To have a woman such as Helen on his arm was quite a draw; he imagined the children they would have – of such beauty, he thought, even the gods would turn green with envy. He was certain of this.
To Hermes, he said, “In my humble opinion, I believe Aphrodite to be the most beautiful of the three; she shines like the noon sun against a backdrop of Zeus' own thunderclouds. I believe she should rightfully be given the apple.”
And so the apple was given to Aphrodite, and Helen's heart to Paris.