Shouting ahead for his dogs to return, Actaeon slowed his bay stallion to a walk and patted the animal's glistening neck with a tired hand as they entered a small clearing in the thick forest.
"He got us today, Areion," the hunter murmured softly, grimly thinking of the massive stag that had eluded them, "but we'll give him another try tomorrow."
The horse responded by tugging on the reins and trotting a few steps, eager to continue the pursuit if his master so wished.
"Nay, my friend," the young man chuckled fondly, pulling him up again, "Tomorrow, tomorrow."
Dismounting as his pack broke through the trees with tongues rolling, he licked his parched lips and scanned the surroundings for water before kneeling to love on each dog.
Delphi, the undisputed leader, came forward confidently, a questioningly look on his disappointed face.
"No more today," Actaeon shook his head as he stroked the bold strikingly white dog, "but you did well, boy. I couldn't ask for a better dog."
"Alright, alright," he laughed as a brindle hound nuzzled her way under his elbow. He kissed her head and stroked her muzzle, "Bia, I'm not going to forget you, girl!"
Next, a gray head gently thrust its pale blue eyes directly into his face. "Ghost-dog," he murmured happily, running his hand down Spiros strong jaws and chest, "Well done!" Admiring the dog's relaxed stance, a small smile of awe twisted his mouth, "We've hunted all morning, but you're hardly out of breath, are you?"
Feeling a bump and a gently bite on his backside, he turned to find Argos, gazing at him expectantly.
"You," he shook his head ruefully, laughing fondly. Giving the yellow dog with black lips a playfully tug on his muzzle, before caressing his ears and kissing his head, he teased, "How many times have I told you to stop biting me?"
"And you," he said, reaching for his most patient dog to rub her long silky liver-colored ears and coat, "You know Cura, it's alright to push your way into this mob when you want a little loving? The rest of them sure do!" He shook his head with a bemused smile, "So swift in the hunt, yet willing to wait all day for my love."
Looking over them as he stood and stretched, a lump of great pride welled up in his chest as one by one they flopped into the grass for a rest, understanding that their job was done for the day. He had raised each of them, as well as their parents and grandparents, from birth and trained them all to hunt. He loved his dogs with all his heart and he was confident that they loved him too.
But his parched tongue involuntarily ran across his dry lips and he recalled his need for refreshment.
"You dogs stay here," he ordered crisply, eyeing Delphi to make sure it would be enforced, "I'm gonna go look for water."
Trotting off into the woods and it wasn't long before the sound of a gurgling spring pique his interest and he followed the sound to a large cave with thick lush vines covering the entrance.
"This must be it," he murmured, relief relaxing him as he pushed aside the vegetation and went inside.
Suddenly, a half-gasp half-shriek startled him to attention and in the dim light that uncovered entrance provided, he saw the most wonderful thing that he'd ever laid eyes on.
For a moment, time stood still and the air was sucked out of the cave as the two stared at each other, but the bathing woman's shock quickly turned to rage when the dumbstruck young man did not avert his eyes.
"How dare you!" she hissed, her athletic but delicate features stiffening and her gray eyes turning cold, "How dare you stare at me as if I'm some common wretch! Get out! Get out! You fool!"
Her fury stirred him to consciousness and he took a few stumbling steps backward, but couldn't quite make himself turn away. Her beauty was more than he had ever hoped to behold!
"Don't you know who I am?" she thundered, rising out of the water to fully face him, in her anger momentarily forgetting her modesty. Then she remembered and, grabbing her tunic, became even more furious, "I'll teach you to gawk at the beauty of a goddess!"
At these words, it dawned on him who this gorgeous creature was...Artemis. But it was to late.
"I-I-I-I'm sorry," he stammered, hastily spinning on his heels to run, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know—"
But the strange sensation of his arms becoming unnaturally heavy stopped him in his tracks and he stared in surreal horror as they lengthen and were covered with soft tawny hair. As they changed, he also felt his body lengthen and change position until he was standing on four legs instead of two. As if in a trance, he watched his fingers curling into tight fists that he couldn't release and then hardened together into solid hooves.
"Noooo, please—no," he let out a high pitched scream, swinging his head violently from side to side in protest as the hair grew across his face and body, "I'm sorry-I'm sorry. Please, not this! Not this! I'll do anything! Just please—"
His voice broke off as a shower of rocks rained down on him from above and when he looked up he was stunned to see a massive rack of antlers towering over his head.
Jumping in startled horror, as if to flee from the fate that had already imprisoned him, he was awed to find himself suddenly outside of the cave. It was, by far, the farthest leap that he'd ever accomplished.
But that was the last manly thought that he ever knew and the stag bounded into the trees to escape a sudden new horror…the sound of the pack baying at its prey.
Its great size and wild speed and strength didn't have the advantage for long; the dogs were a cohesive unit and welled disciplined in the hunt. Soon, a gray dog was running stride for stride with his quarry, streaking through underbrush like a ghost, and a liver-red dog coasted up on the other side, seeming to barely touch the ground as she flew.
The stag veered sharply, trying to gain an advantage and out distance the pack in the thick forest, but a powerful white dog closed in, just managing to rip the animal's flank before the stag's hoof crashed into its head, slamming it into a tree.
But the bite had accomplished its purpose and soon the stag felt the ripping pain of another vicious bite, this time from a yellow dog with black jaws. Stumbling just as a brindle dog closed in, cutting off the last escape route, the stag sank to the ground to accept its fate and the entire pack closed in to finish the job.
Then, after taking out their frustrated morning hunt on their afternoon kill, the dogs retired to the shade, knowing that their young master would be pleased with their success.
Author's Notes: Actaeon's horse, Areion, is named for the mythological, divinely-bred horse that was known to be extremely swift and, in Latin tradition, endowed with the power of speech. His parents were Poseidon in the guise of a stallion and Demeter dressed as a Fury.
I found the dog names on a list of Greek names for dogs and modeled them after various dog breeds. Delphi is a Dogo Argentino, Bia a Plott Hound, Spiros a Weimaraner. Argos a Black-mouth Cur, and Cura a Redbone Coonhound.