I love animals. When my sisters and I lived by the Springs of Helicon, there were wild animals all around our Museum. We never kept any in particular as pets because we never needed to. Deer, goats, foxes, rabbits, birds, lizards, bears, wildcats, you name it. If it lived in our forest, we’d feed it and play with it. Sometimes I’d go into the woods and divert mortal hunters’ arrows just for laughs.
Then we moved to the Parnassus Museum, which is in an area devoid of indigenous fauna. I suspected from the start that Apollo considered this one of the perks of the location. He’d gotten more than enough of the pastoral life during his year of hard labor. I didn’t blame him. He wasn’t that great of a shepherd even with divine powers, which Zeus took away for that year. Zeus also ruled that the other gods couldn’t provide help, which meant lending Apollo my shepherd’s staff was out of the question. Anyway, the point is, I knew the last thing Apollo would want around the house was a pet. Therefore, if I was to alter my pet-free lifestyle, I’d have to approach the subject with the utmost diplomacy and sensitivity.
“What’s this?” Apollo asked as he surveyed the scroll I’d placed in his hand at the end of dance practice. I’d waited until my sisters, especially Calliope, had left. “‘Reasons Why You Being Governor of the Muses Makes No Sense.’”
“Just a little document I prepared,” I said with a winsome smile. “Read on.”
“‘One: The Muses have done just fine all these centuries under only the nominal guardianship of Zeus.’ True,” he acknowledged, “but you never know when Zeus might decide to make his guardianship more than nominal. This way, I’m sort of a barrier between you and him.”
“Please go on to Item Two,” I waved.
“‘Two: You are probably going to give some absurd defense about being a barrier between us and Zeus. However, it’s occurred to us that the very act of requesting to be made Governor of the Muses would in itself draw us to Zeus’ attention,’” he read. “I did consider that, and I decided it was worth the risk. It doesn’t seem to have happened.”
“The list goes on.”
“‘Three: There is no precedent for an adult becoming the guardian of another adult except in the cases of adoption or marriage. So, did you adopt nine grown women who are arguably older than you, or do you have nine wives?’” Apollo appeared particularly unflattered by both implications. “First, if you recall, I was born a year before you. Second, you know Artemis is my guardian, right?”
“You just made that up!” I protested. I could have sworn Zeus was Apollo’s guardian since his mother, Leto, was out of the picture. “And, yeah, you were born earlier, but it took you longer to grow up. If you recall, my sisters and I were fully grown when we met you and Artemis, but you two were still adolescents.” They caught up to us in a few years. Now we’re all physically equivalent to humans in their mid-twenties, like most full-blooded gods. Actually, I think the only exception from our generation is Hephaestus. He looked my age when we started dating, but he ended up aging about ten more years.
“I remember it well,” Apollo responded. “I also remember my ridiculously overprotective sister demanding that Zeus make her my guardian because she didn’t think I was safe under his direct authority. He did. He always gave Artemis what she wanted. It made Hera furious.”
Huh. “Is that why you never got married?” Getting Artemis to approve a bride sounded like a task insurmountable even for one of the most powerful gods in the Pantheon.
“There are many reasons for that,” he dodged. “On to Item Four: ‘If you were lonely or something, you could have just asked to move in with us and left any position of authority out of the picture, you idiot,’” he read in a monotone voice. “I did it this way to protect our reputations,” he explained. He seemed annoyed, but not really upset. “Although,” he admitted, “that has sort of backfired.”
“You thought that if you just moved in with us because you felt like it, people would think you were sleeping with any given number of us, but you figured if you became Governor of the Muses and moved us to Parnassus, everyone would assume that there couldn’t possibly be anything between us?” I clarified.
“It made sense to me at the time,” he shrugged.
“You really are an idiot,” I concluded. “But,” I said brightly, “out of my kindness and magnanimity, I am offering you a chance to redeem yourself. I think we can all agree that the less we bring this whole Governor/Guardian/Whatever thing into play, the better. So I bring this petition before you as a tenant to a landlord, nothing more.”
“This ought to be good.”
“I want a pet.”
He briskly stroked my head a few times. “Is that enough for you?” he teased.
“See, that’s why I’m the deity of comedy, not you. And if that were enough for me, I never would have dumped Hephaestus. But seriously, like a deer or a lion or a unicorn or something? Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“I thought Hephaestus was the one who broke up with you.”
“I let people think that because I’m a compassionate soul. For example, if a mature, responsible goddess who lived in my house wanted a pet, I’d let her have one.” My smile was growing winsomer by the second.
“Calliope wants a pet? Why didn’t you say so? That’s different.”
“Come on, we could all share it,” I chose to ignore this slight. “Don’t you ever miss your horses? We could get a horse. We could get ten horses, one for each of us.”
“Do you know why I’m telling you ‘no’?”
“Because you hate me and you suck?”
“Yes, but also because I foresee that any pet of yours wouldn’t just be a pet, it would be your minion of evil.”
“You do not foresee that.”
“Prove it,” he smirked.
“If your prophecies don’t come true, they aren’t real prophecies,” I reasoned. “So by not letting me have a pet, you’re proving it.”
“I wouldn’t call it a prophecy so much as a vision.” He was keeping a straight face now, but it was obvious he was trying to irritate me.
“Maybe it’s not even a vision so much as you having one glass too many last night,” I suggested.
“I had a single glass of wine with dinner, as always. Nothing in excess,” he exhorted.
It should be obvious by now, even to you clueless mortals, that Apollo wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to provoke me if he hadn’t wanted the game to continue. He wanted to let me have a pet, but he had to save face on Olympus, so he couldn’t just hand it to me. He was practically begging me to prove that I was clever and crafty enough to deserve it. It was pathetic, really.
“Alright, just one horse,” I agreed, holding out my hand for him to shake. He took my hand, turned it over, and lightly smacked the back of it with my rolled-up document.
“No horse,” he ruled.
“How about this,” I proposed, snatching the ill-used document back from him and straightening the parchment. “If I can get one of the other Olympians to give me a pet, I get to keep it. I petition them myself fairly and without supernatural coercion, and you don’t forbid them.”
“On a few conditions. Item One: the pet must be pre-existing, not specially created for you. Item Two: ‘Olympian’ shall be defined as one of the Twelve enthroned in Zeus and Hera’s court, not someone who merely lives on Olympus – example: Eros, Hera’s three daughters – or anyone of equal power who resides in another realm – examples: Hades, Poseidon, your mother, et cetera. Item Three, the pet MUST be an animal. Item Four, the deal expires in three days starting…” he looked around at a nearby sundial, “…now. Now go inside, it’s time for lunch.”
“I think I’ll dine on Olympus this afternoon,” I said triumphantly. “Hera’s been wanting me to for ages.”
Zeus and Hera have the ring with the dining halls and other recreation rooms divided between two of them. The men dine with Zeus and the women dine with Hera, except on special occasions when everyone gathers in the main banquet hall. This way, not only do Their Majesties never have to see each other when they’re not holding court, but Hera can keep track of where all the women are – and more importantly, when they’re not where they’re supposed to be. Hera’s table is in the center of the women’s dining room. Only the ladies of the Twelve dine there. The rest of the female courtiers, including all three of Hera’s daughters, eat at other tables further out from it.
Hera sat at the head of the table with her friends Demeter and Hestia at her right and left hand. Since they were all created by the same pair of Titans, one could argue that they’re her sisters, but since that would also make Zeus Hera’s brother, one wouldn’t. Demeter was looking every bit the earth goddess, with her spring green gown, ruddy complexion, gloriously untamed auburn hair, and warm hazel eyes. Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, looked the same as always. She has Hera’s brown hair and understated attire, though hers is matched by a tranquil, unassuming demeanor. Something about Hestia just makes you want to curl up in front of a fireplace with a good book and a cup of tea and stay there all day.
Down from Hestia and Demeter, Artemis and Athena sat across from each other presenting a study in contrast. Aphrodite once called Artemis a masculine version of Apollo. She wears plain men’s chitons, perfect for hunting and driving. Her golden hair is usually pinned up in a knot, out of her face and off her shoulders. I’ve seen her wear some light cosmetics at parties, probably at Athena’s beseeching, but today her face was completely unadorned as usual. All in all, Artemis’ attire was a futile attempt to downplay the fact that she’s an extremely attractive woman.
Athena likes to up-play the fact that she’s an extremely attractive woman. She enjoys being noticed, as evidenced by the dazzling plumed helmet she wore over her lustrous brown locks. Today she’d refrained from wearing a breastplate at the table, but that was possibly because the draping of her fabulous gown was giving Aphrodite a run for her money.
Aphrodite. In spite of the company that surrounded her, the goddess sitting alone at the foot of the table was the first thing anyone would notice upon entering the dining hall. It’s not just her voluptuous figure, her bewitching seafoam green eyes, or her gleaming mass of gold – not blonde, gold – hair. It’s all of her. She is beauty, love, desire, sex. Whether you find her presence a blessing or a curse, a delight or a nuisance, you can’t ignore Aphrodite.
But you can do everything in your power to suppress her. “Thalia, my darling little jester!” Hera greeted me with glee as soon as she saw me. “Come and dine with me. Aphrodite,” she commanded, “stand up so Thalia can have your seat.” Aphrodite had no choice but to comply. I almost felt kind of sorry for her. Then she opened her mouth.
“Nice dress, Thalia,” she said cloyingly as I settled into my seat. Well, her seat. “It’s perfect for someone of your station. Besides, it gives the illusion of a much larger bust. But it could do a better job of disguising the fact that you have a disproportionately thick waist.”
This was where being Hera’s pet snark made a visit to Olympus much more tolerable than it could have been. “Nice marriage, Aphrodite,” I deadpanned. “It’s perfect for someone of your station. Besides, it gives the illusion of respectability. But it could do a better job of disguising the fact that you’re a slut.” I do not have a thick waist. I have small hips.
Hera, Hestia, and Demeter laughed. Athena and Artemis whispered unintelligible things to each other across the table. I listened over them to Hera’s praise. “It’s always such a joy having you here, my lovely. Artemis, tell your bastard twin he should let this charming creature accompany him here more often. Artemis,” she repeated, louder and sharper. “Stop flirting with Athena and answer me.”
“Yes, my lady,” Artemis averted her eyes, trying not to show her embarrassment. “I’ll tell him that.” I hoped she would, and I hoped I’d get to see his reaction.
“Tell me, Thalia,” Hera goaded, “do you really believe these two are only friends as they say?” Artemis’ face turned to stone and Athena’s turned to embers. This, I didn’t like so much. But I didn’t dare show Hera my displeasure.
“Oh, absolutely,” I merrily grabbed the bait and ran with it. “They like each other way too much to be a couple.” Artemis relaxed. Athena gave me a subtle, grateful smile. Hera kept up her forced laughter to save face, but I got the feeling I should tread carefully from there out. Aphrodite, on the other hand, seemed to find my response genuinely funny.
“How are things on Parnassus?” Athena conversationally changed the subject.
“Great. You ought to come visit us sometime,” I invited her. Both she and Artemis used to accompany Apollo to the Helicon Museum all the time. “My sisters would love to see you.”
“Have you and your sisters settled into your new home?” Hestia joined the conversation, pleased that it was taking a gentler turn.
“We have; thank you for asking,” I said. “It’s a really nice place. Hephaestus did such a great job building it.”
“I remember that,” said Aphrodite. “He was gone for days. It’s so lonely and boring when he’s working.”
“I know,” said Athena. “My quarters are right next to yours, and I was kept up every night that week by your anguished moans.”
“Well, everyone’s sacrifices resulted in an amazing Museum,” I returned the conversation back in the right direction. “Have any of you seen the mural on the roof of our throne room? It’s incredible. The whole building is incredible. It has the appropriate grandeur, but it’s comfortable and homey, too. You know the only thing I miss about our old place, though?”
“The fields?” asked Demeter.
“The fact that it was your first house?” asked Hestia.
“The freedom?” asked Hera.
“The wildlife,” I answered.
“I’m sure Apollo put a damper on that,” Aphrodite snickered.
“Keep practicing; you’ll get there,” I condescended. “I miss the animals around the Springs of Helicon,” I continued my carefully-crafted dialogue. “Every spring, Terpsichore would teach the fawns to prance, Euterpe would teach the robins to sing, I’d teach the mockingbirds to mock. I was just saying the other day, it would be nice if we could at least have one pet.”
“Well, let me send a pair of peacocks home with you,” Hera offered. “No, even better; I’ll send you a cow! I know just the one.” She beckoned to a servant nymph and said, “Prepare the white cow in the south pasture, the one being guarded by my peacocks.” The nymph bowed and went to carry out her mistress’ command. Artemis and Athena looked stunned. Hestia and Demeter sighed in resignation. Aphrodite let a mean-spirited chuckle escape.
“My Lady, are you sure?” I said, hardly able to believe my good fortune. Apprehensively unable to believe my good fortune, actually. “She must be very special if your sacred birds are guarding her.”
“She is very, very special,” Hera emphasized, digging her knife into a thick piece of meat. “I know you and your sisters and your obsessive guardian would never let her wander off, or let anyone near her who would do her harm.”
When dinner was over, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter retired to the throne room. Aphrodite left the opposite way, probably to Ares’ quarters. Artemis and Athena walked me to the gate. Once we were there, they cornered me. “Listen,” said Athena. “You cannot take the cow.”
“Um, Hera offered me the cow, so I kind of have to take the cow.”
“She’s right,” said Artemis. “But…look, you have to…the cow is a woman. A demigoddess, actually.”
“Oh my…don’t tell me?”
“Remember Io?” said Artemis.
“Yeah,” I said. “I remember that one was totally Eros’ fault. Hera turned her into a cow? That’s a little on the nose, isn’t it?” I couldn’t help a teeny, tiny giggle.
“She only wants you to take the cow so you get the job of keeping Zeus away from her,” said Artemis.
“Doesn’t Hera know the antidote to Eros’ golden arrows? She can just stab Zeus in his sleep.”
“She did,” said Athena. “Trust me, that was not a happy day.”
“Look, I’m pretty sure I do have to take the cow,” I reiterated, “but thanks for the briefing.” The servant nymph reached the gate, leading a pure white cow by a silken halter and lead. A fly the size of a hummingbird kept buzzing around the poor miserable boviness, stinging her every chance it got.
“Here you are, my lady Thalia,” the nymph curtseyed. “A gift from Hera’s own pasture.”
“Thank you so much,” I said. I took the cow’s lead and teleported out of there as quickly as I could.
“Apollo!” I called, running to the field where he was leading my sisters in chorale practice. “Time out; I need my sisters for something.” I tugged on the cow’s lead, urging her to keep up.
“Congratulations, you win,” he quickly looked up from the podium, still keeping time with the silver arrow he was using for a baton.
“No, I don’t,” I said urgently.
He sighed. “Five minutes,” he told them, producing a small hourglass.
“Oh, you got a cow!” “She’s so cute!” “Look at those big, brown eyes.” “Someone kill that stupid fly.” “What are we going to feed her?”
“This isn’t a cow, it’s Io,” I said above the din. “Hera gave her to me, but I’m not supposed to know who she is. We need to change her back so we can get rid of her.”
This comment brought Apollo sprinting to my side. “You want Hera to banish me, don’t you?”
“I’ll tell Hera we ate the cow. She’ll love us forever. We are going to do this,” I said adamantly.
“Fine, just keep me out of it,” he folded his arms. My sisters and I formed a circle around Io, preparing to transform her. Our transformation powers only work if we use them in unison.
“Wait!” I stopped them. I ripped the cloak off Apollo’s otherwise bare torso.
“Now isn’t the time for a striptease,” he chided.
“Exactly,” I said, throwing it over the cow. With one casting of our hands, the cow morphed into a woman.
An extremely pregnant woman.
“Oh, thank you,” she breathed heavily, sinking to the ground and clutching the cloak around herself. “I’ve been carrying Zeus’ child for three years. I couldn’t give birth while I wasn’t in my true form – part of Hera’s- AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaa, oh my god!”
“We’re right here,” we all answered together.
Apollo crushed the hourglass in his fist. “Chorale practice is cancelled; you’re delivering a baby. I’m going to go…be somewhere else.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “The divine patron of medical science is going to leave the glee club of the gods to deliver a baby? I don’t think so. This is one case where your supervision would actually be useful.”
By midnight, Io was the mother of a healthy baby boy. Both mother and child were bathed, clothed, and fed. “His name is Epaphus,” Io held her newborn son with pride. “I’m going to take him somewhere far away where neither Zeus nor Hera can find us. How can I ever thank you?”
“By doing that,” Apollo and I answered in unison.
“Well, that’s the end of that,” he said to me. “I hope you’ve learned something.”
“I’ve learned I am never giving birth,” I replied. “And that is so not the end of that. You said my pet has to be an animal, which Io is not. I still have another two days.” As I spoke, we were blinded by a spotlight from Artemis’ chariot. She parked it above the dancing field and teleported next to us.
“Hey, bro,” she greeted Apollo with a hug. “I thought I should stop by before I get back to Olympus. Hera says to tell you to bring Thalia with you more often. I’d do it tomorrow if I were you.”
“If I must, I must,” Apollo conceded.
That was it? What a let-down.
Apollo woke me up at the crack of dawn to accompany him on his Olympian check-in. “You get up this early every morning?” I groaned, having gotten only so far as kicking off my covers. “No wonder you’re always so…how you are.”
“Stop complaining and get dressed.” He threw one of my dresses and a handful of assorted jewelry on top of my lifeless form. I snapped my limp, exhausted fingers once. Nightgown off. I snapped them again. Dress, jewelry, and hairdo on. Apollo snapped his fingers right by my ear. “You forgot your makeup.”
I stood up and snapped my fingers in his face. “Forgot yours, too.” He looked in the mirror, snapped his fingers again, and removed everything but the gold eyeliner.
Apollo held my hand and teleported us to the center of Zeus and Hera’s throne room. “My Lord; my Lady,” Apollo bowed to them. I did the same.
“I see you’re getting along well with your charges,” Zeus teased him, his meaning all too clear.
“I’m keeping order as I told you I would,” Apollo deliberately ignored his father’s implication. “As you can see, the arts and sciences have flourished since I joined forces with the Muses.”
“Flourished, yes, but I expected them to be multiplying by now,” Zeus laughed. Ares, Dionysus, and Hermes laughed with him.
“Thalia,” Hera commandeered the conversation, “are you enjoying your new pet?”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “when I brought her home, Apollo decided we should eat her.”
“Really?” said Hera, trying rather unsuccessfully to look disappointed. “I’m sorry, dear. But let us forgive him, shall we? Men do love a good piece of flesh,” she smiled calmly. “We’ll just have to find a new pet for you.”
“You don’t have to do that, my Lady.”
“I will,” Aphrodite offered. “A cow is no pet for a lady,” she sneered. “Let me give you one of my doves.” She came forward and clapped her hands together in front of her. When she opened them, an exquisite white dove was nesting in them. “Take good care of him. He was one of my favorites.”
“Thank you,” I accepted the dove. He cooed as he looked right at me with his bright, black eyes. “Aw, he’s so sweet.” I held the charming creature close to me. He was so soft and gentle. It was so cute the way he nestled his little white head in my bosom.
It was also rather suspicious.
“Apollo,” I alerted him, “Look, isn’t he precious?” I held the bird out to him.
“He’s adorable,” Apollo practically cooed, taking him from me. “You might just have to share this little guy with me, oh, yes you will.” He held the bird against the crook of his neck and started kissing his soft feathers. He was thrown back when the bird’s wingspan suddenly grew to ten feet and sprouted a thoroughly disgusted young god.
“Alright, alright!” Eros surrendered, rapidly wiping his face with his hands. The gods and goddesses, except for Eros’ parents, were nearly falling out of their thrones with laughter. “You guys win. Mom, that was child abuse. Next time you want to get back at some chick for calling you a slut, get Dad to help. Or better yet, just don’t be a slut. I have a reputation to think about, you know.” He flew out of the throne room like a bat out of Hades.
“Don’t you talk to your mother that way, you useless little brat!” Aphrodite screamed, running after him. “You want to talk about reputations? The damage control I have to…”
Apollo and I held hands and bowed to those assembled, all of whom were clapping and cheering wildly – except for Hephaestus, who was trying desperately to look as though he wasn’t there. Luckily for him, people tend to be unaware of his presence anyway. At least he had the sense to feel some shame, unlike Ares, who was clapping along with everyone else. I made a mental note to be sure to make a fool of Ares sometime. He needed it as much as the rest of his…whatever Aphrodite and Eros were to him. It’s hard to make a fool of Ares, though. Everyone already knows he’s a moron, and he either doesn’t mind or doesn’t get it.
Apollo interrupted my contemplation by whispering, “Fail.”
I went back home with Apollo, spent the rest of the day with my sisters, and went to bed right after dinner. An hour before sunrise, I woke up and went straight back to Olympus. I had a new plan, one that I must complete before Apollo made his morning visit. This time I’d bypass the full court entirely and just focus on my friends. So I went around the lowest ring of the palace, came to the stables, and found Artemis. Helios wasn’t up yet. Artemis was nearly done putting up her horses. Athena was with her.
“Hey, Thalia,” said Artemis. “If you were wanting a ride-along, you’re a little late.”
“No, I need to ask you something, either of you. Could you give me a pet? It has to be an animal, it has to already be in existence, and I have to have it by noon.”
“Seriously? Apollo’s making you jump through all those hoops just to get a pet? Why didn’t you come to us in the first place?” she laughed. “Athena, you want to take this one?”
“I have just the thing.” Athena clapped her hands together. Instantly appearing before us was a magnificent white stallion with wings like an eagle’s. “Presenting the amazing Pegasus,” she introduced him. He bowed to me on one knee. “I created him to be used in battle, but I made him such a brilliant tactician that his riders can’t get him to cooperate. He thinks he knows better, and he usually does. But he doesn’t know anything about the arts or sciences. He’ll get along great with you and your sisters.”
“And Apollo,” Artemis added. “Be sure to share with him, will you? He misses his old horses like crazy. I try to get him to visit the stables, but he says it’s too painful.”
“You swear this is just a winged horse?” I said with wary hesitation as I took his reins from Athena. “Because I don’t want him turning into anything else after I mount him.”
“I swear,” Athena laughed. “Here, let me give you a leg up…that’s right, get your thighs right behind his wings, there’s plenty of room…there! Perfect. Now just tell him where you want to go.”
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Is there any way I can repay you?”
“Not at all,” she happily insisted. “That’s why it’s called a gift.”
“The Museum on Mount Parnassus,” I cued Pegasus. He cantered out of the stable and down the runway. As we neared the edge, he spread his wings and rose into the air.
You know that one glorious moment at the crest of a jump where you feel like your horse is flying? The entire ride felt like that. I didn’t have to steer Pegasus at all. He was flying in a straight line toward the Museum at the most efficient speed possible. That was definitely Athena’s battle strategy influence at work. I couldn’t wait to see what other abilities he had. What was his top speed? Did he know how to hide in a cloud? Could he hover in place? I had forever to find out. This fantastic creature was all mine.
Well, mine and the rest of my household’s. The first glimpses of Helios’ chariot gave Pegasus an opalescent glow as I landed him in the middle of the dancing field. My sisters, awakened by the beating of Pegasus’ wings, swarmed around to see him. “He’s beautiful!” “What’s his name?” “Is he ours to keep?” “Can we share?” “When do I get to ride him?”
“This is Pegasus, my new minion of evil,” I threw a triumphant look at Apollo, who was standing a little way back from the swarm. “He’s a gift from Athena for all of us to share.”
Apollo came forward and stroked Pegasus’ strong, arching neck. Pegasus nickered and lowered his head. “It’s an outright gift?”
“No one created him especially for you?”
“Nope, he was meant for Athena’s warriors.”
“You’re sure he really is a horse?”
“I have the word of Athena.”
“Six hours to spare,” he noted. “Then I suppose I have to let you keep him.”
I held my hand out to Apollo. “When I said we can all share him, I meant all of us. Helios just pulled out of the stables,” I tempted him. “I’ll bet this guy could give him a run for his money. Come on, you know you want to.”
And there was that smile that some mortals believe lights the sun. I’m not always entirely sure they’re wrong. Apollo took my hand and climbed up behind me, and we flew off into the sunrise.