1.5 Let the Games Begin

I don’t have many good things to say about Ares. He’s boorish, arrogant, and a complete ignoramus. He’s one of only four legitimate children of both Zeus and Hera, and he makes sure everyone knows it. He lives for destruction and violence. If you want help with the noble art of battle strategy, talk to Athena. All Ares does is line up a bunch of guys and watch them slaughter each other for the fun of it. He doesn’t even care which side wins or what the war is about. He’s just in it for the bloodshed. He’s as thoughtless with his relationships, if you can even call them that. I wish I could say that I don’t understand how he ever gets a woman in the first place, but the truth is, he does project a certain…some people just have this aura of…when a god and a goddess…okay, fine, Ares is HAWT. He is sex on a stick. You can cross the finish line just looking at him.

He is the last guy you want your sister to date.

“Well,” said Apollo, trying to process the fact that Calliope was apparently doing just that, “why don’t we all go inside and have a talk?”

“What’s there to talk about?” said Ares.

“Come on, it’ll make him feel better,” Calliope enticed, twirling her fingers in Ares’ thick, dark, curly hair. “It won’t take long, I promise.”

Ares reluctantly turned and started carrying Calliope toward the Museum. “She can walk,” said Apollo.

“That’s not all she can do,” Ares laughed, still holding Calliope as she laughed with him.

“Ares,” she giggled, “not in front of Apollo.”

“Can your arrows injure him?” I whispered to Apollo.

“I have no idea,” he whispered back, “but I may perform some tests in the near future.”

We all took our places on our thrones. Well, Ares was on Calliope’s throne holding her in his lap. Apollo stood in the center of the room. He waved his hand, and a small orb of sunlight appeared over each of our heads. “Calliope,” he opened, “please, tell us, how long this has been going on?” His tone was making an attempt at warmth and congeniality, but his countenance was screaming, How could you do this to me? You’re the good one!

“It started at the first committee meeting for the Pythian Games,” she said. “I’d never paid Ares much attention before, and I certainly didn’t think he’d ever noticed me. But he just swept me off my feet. He told he’d loved me from afar for years, but he’d always felt too intimidated to approach me because I’m so brilliant and talented.” I suspected that was a slight paraphrase.

“Yeah, but then she had to get all-” he interrupted her. She interrupted his interruption by gently placing two fingers over his lips.

“Shhh, I’m talking, baby. You can talk when it’s your turn. I told him we couldn’t be together as long as he had anything going on with Aphrodite. I did not want to get involved in that mess. To be honest, I thought he’d forget about it, but Hermes brought word the other day that Ares wanted to meet me in Delphi. I went out of curiosity. I had no idea what was going to come of it, so I didn’t tell any of you what I was doing. Ares told me he’d broken things off with Aphrodite, for good this time. So, here we are!” she happily concluded. “Okay, now it’s your turn,” she said to Ares.

“Good,” he said. “‘Cause you left out the part where we went behind your altar and-“

“Yes I did, because that is not a story for mixed company,” she reproved him.

“Your altar is in my temple!” Apollo realized in horror. Then he brightened considerably, as did the orb above his head. “Which gives me sufficient grounds to put a stop to this. Calliope, I forbid you to have anything to do with Ares for the remainder of your existence. Ares, put Calliope down and get out of my house.”

“Oh, forbidden love!” Calliope sighed in rapture. “But this isn’t your choice, Apollo. This is bigger than you. It’s bigger than all of us. We’re in love, and love is a force greater than any other power known to god or man. The light of the sun cannot outshine it, nor can the dark of night extinguish it…” And then, as she said a bunch of other stuff that I would love to be able to purge from my memory, I understood exactly what was going on. If only I could share my revelation with Apollo before he opened his mouth again.

Too late. “I’m your guardian,” Apollo said as soon he could get a word in edgewise. “Legally, I do have the final say in this matter.”

“You would if I were getting married,” said Calliope, “but we have no such plans.”

“I thought some Muse would eventually say that, though I never expected it to be you. So I had this clause written into my contract,” he produced a scroll. He pointed to a certain section and showed it to Calliope and Ares. “She can help you with the big words,” he patted Ares on the head.

“Yeah, I know,” Ares grinned. “None of my other girlfriends were this smart.”

“Have you considered that there may be a correlation?” Apollo suggested.

“‘Coffee date veto’? Really?” Calliope frowned in disapproval. “Are you sure you were of sound mind when you signed this contract?”

“Quite,” he nodded, “which is obviously more than can be said for you at the moment, which is why I need to make this decision for you. Ares, get out; Muses, get to bed.”

“What is your problem?” Calliope stared. “When I was in charge, I never would have interfered with my sisters’ love lives. I trusted that they would make good decisions most of the time, and I accepted that when they didn’t, they were strong enough to deal with the consequences. You know what else I didn’t do when I was in charge? I didn’t orchestrate every second of their day. I didn’t tell them how to do their jobs. I gave them some basic structure and guidance and then stepped back and let them handle their own work their own way. You and I have both been parents, Apollo. You should know as well as I do that holding on too tightly is the worst mistake a guardian can make.”

“One of the two,” he said softly, looking somewhat chastised. “The other is not holding on at all. The Golden Mean.”

“Baby, what’s this word?” Ares pointed to a spot on the document.

“‘Cur-few’,” Calliope sounded it out for him. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.” She then returned her attention to Apollo. “I’ll only see Ares after hours,” she calmly stipulated. “I won’t bring him here if you don’t want me to. We’ll stay away from your temple. We’ll be models of decorum in public. If you’re the kind of leader I know you can be, you’ll agree that this is a reasonable, balanced arrangement.”

“I have to concede that it is,” he sighed. “I still don’t approve of your choice, but maybe I drove you to it. I’ll try to make things a little more relaxed around here. We’ll keep an hour of dance and an hour of chorale in the morning, but for the rest of the day, you’ll all be free to pursue your own arts as you see fit,” he said.

Oh, the ideas that were spawning in my eager little mind…

“Within reason,” he added. Bummer.

“I’m really proud of you,” Calliope smiled, at last climbing down from Ares’ lap to give Apollo a sisterly hug. “See you in the morning.”

“What?”

“Yes, I’m spending the night on Olympus. Don’t worry, I’ll be back for breakfast.”

Actually, she got back before breakfast. As she’d mentioned the previous night, she’s pretty sensitive about what she discusses in mixed company. However, while Apollo was on his daily visit to Mount Olympus, she had no reservations at all on filling us in on Every. Epic. Detail. I couldn’t wait for Apollo to get back.

When that blessed moment came, he reminded us that we’d only have two hours of structured exercises. Supposedly it was a change he’d been planning to implement anyway in preparation for the upcoming Pythian Games. “Uh huh, sure you were,” I teased him. “Whatever you need to say to feel like you’re in charge.”

“I only instituted so much structure in the first place to keep you out of trouble,” he reminded me. I can’t smack him while he’s doing the sun smile thing. He knows this. Bitch.

The Pythian Games have been a staple of life in Delphi for so long that the mortals have nearly forgotten the details of the Games’ origin. I will tell you. Long story short: When Leto, Apollo and Artemis’ mother, was hiding in Delphi, Hera sent a giant serpent called the Python to attack her. Apollo killed the Python.

Hera was mad that Apollo killed her pet, so she ordered him to hold a feast in its memory every other year on the site of its death. The planning committee – guess who! – made a few misprints on the flyers, and the affair got turned into a week of awesome competitions in sports, music, and theater, all in honor of Apollo and his heroic slaying of the monster who dared threaten his mother. Hera was less than pleased. Delphi loved the Games, though, and since the planning committee had gotten the part right about Hera ordering them, she had to play along. Just one of the many reasons Apollo is so dear to her.

Since the very first Games, my sisters and I have been Apollo’s co-producers. This would be our first year as co-hosts. Prestigious Muse is prestigious!

“All of our priests have been collecting a lot of entries in the Music and Theatre division,” Calliope headed off the Game talk, bringing my mind back to the dinner table.

“I hope we get some better singers than the last Games,” said Euterpe. “I’m tired of them all sounding alike.”

“They’ve had four years to prepare this time instead of just two,” Melpomene reminded her. “Hopefully that’s plenty of time for the playwrights to get some new material. I just want to see some logical, meaningful, entertaining death. Is that so much to ask?”

“I can’t believe Aphrodite got a beauty pageant added to the roster,” I complained. “She just wants to know who to smite.”

“I got outvoted,” Apollo lamented.

“And then they went and made you a judge! Poor baby,” I said, overflowing with sympathy for his sad plight.

“My trials are unending,” he replied.

“I don’t know, I think a beauty pageant could be fun,” said Terpsichore. “I’m on the judging committee, you know. I made sure the contestants will be graded on poise, carriage, grooming, and costume design. I’d enter myself if these games weren’t for mortals only.”

“If goddesses could enter,” I said, “Aphrodite would, and she’d win because she cheats.”

“You think she’d need to?” asked Apollo.

“Really? You really think out of all the goddesses, she-” I started, but Calliope cut me off.

“The more we avoid that conversation, the safer we’ll all be,” she cautioned.
“You’re right,” I admitted. Stupid Olympian goddesses and their stupid divine wrath. “So, what are the athletic competitions looking like, and will we get a chance to watch?”

“And most importantly,” asked Erato, “is the men’s uniform rule still in effect?”

“Yes to you watching, no to the uniforms,” said Apollo. “Hera found out about Ganymede, so she’s ordering all athletes to at least gird their loins.” Disapproval was loudly expressed by all those assembled. “Now, since these games will be your first under my governance, I would consider it a personal favor if you’d all be on your best behavior.”

“We’re always on our best behavior at the Games,” I said with huge, solemn, innocent eyes. My sisters nodded in support.

“Then make your best behavior better,” Apollo ordered. “May I remind you of the incident at the racetrack twenty years ago?”

“We were drunk,” Melpomene dismissed. “Blame Dionysus. No, blame the pathetic contestants in the Theater division who drove me and Thalia to the demon rum.”

“And demon wine and demon whiskey,” Clio recalled.

“My point is,” Apollo explained, “Zeus would blame me.”

“We’re just giving you a hard time,” I comforted him. “We’ll use common sense,” I looked at my sisters, “like we always do,” I looked at Apollo. “As supremely annoying as you are, we’ve gotten sort of used to having you around all the time, and none of us want you to get fired.”

“Sounds like someone wants to keep you around pretty bad,” Erato winked at him.

“Now, Calliope,” I changed the subject, “assuming you and Ares are still a couple by then – I’m just saying – he knows the Muses go as a group, right? We always go as a group. We have nine reserved seats at the Amphitheater built specially for us. All of them have names on them. None of them say Ares.”

“We’ve talked about it, and it won’t be a problem,” she said. “He’ll be judging wrestling, but other than that, I’ll sit on an end as usual, and he’ll sit next to me.”

“Who gets the other end seat?” I whispered to Apollo. It was usually Urania, but the seats could be rearranged.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered back. “I foresee you immovably rooted to the other end seat.”

“You don’t approve, either, do you?” Calliope asked me, more saddened than defensive. I’d made Calliope sad. I was a terrible person.

“Well, it’s just hard when one of your favorite people is dating one of your least favorite people,” I carefully answered. “But it’s your life. If I were dating someone you couldn’t stand, I know you’d back off,” I added kindly. See? Diplomatic Muse is diplomatic.

Tired of discussing Ares, Apollo suggested, “You all ought to consider using your free time to help your contestants.”

“I’ll see what they give me,” said Euterpe.

“Maybe we should post lists by our altars,” Terpsichore backed her up. “The least they could do is offer me a pair of slippers or something.”

“I try to help my contestants by providing a series of comic mishaps in their lives,” I said. “They never seem very appreciative.”

“I’ll be spending my free time with Ares,” said Calliope. Gag.

“Then I guess one of your sisters will win the contest,” said Apollo.

“What contest?” we demanded, our voices nowhere close to unison.

“This year I thought I’d try something new,” he explained. “Instead of just a general Music and Theater division, there would be a category for each of your disciplines. In the final round, all nine of your champions would compete against each other. I’d be the judge, of course. What do you think?”

Nine “Aye” votes echoed through the dining hall.

“Excellent. I’ll propose it to the Olympian committee members tomorrow.”

The next morning at breakfast, we were told that the rest of the planning committee had approved the measure unanimously. As soon as dance and chorale were over, we all rushed to the throne room to look in on our altars – even Calliope, who said Ares could stand to wait until after lunch to see her. I had five entrants in the comedy division already, and the notices had barely been posted. Naturally, they all wanted my help, and since I wanted that prize, I was going to give it to them. As I determined this, it occurred to me that Apollo hadn’t specified what the prize was. That must mean that either he was keeping it a secret, he hadn’t decided yet, or it was only bragging rights. Whatever the case, I still wanted it.

So did all of my sisters. We were each doing everything in our power to get our contestants into shape, especially Calliope. By that point we should have been over being shocked by anything related to Calliope and Ares, but in this case we couldn’t help it. She had drafted all her men into Ares’ latest battle campaign. The poets fought by day and wrote epic tales about their exploits by night. Apollo tried to point out that her chances of entering a winning contestant might be hurt by the fact that not all of them were surviving, but Calliope claimed they knew what they were getting into. To be fair, they did, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves except for the death part.

As for me, I held a comedic theater boot camp at the Corycian Cave for eight hours a day, six days a week, all summer. Sure, there was some thinning of the herd, but if they couldn’t handle the training, they couldn’t handle the competition.

“To think I assumed you were never given any kind of leadership position because you lacked the necessary order and discipline,” Apollo teased me one day at the end of a session he’d been observing. “It turns out you’re excessive rather than deficient in this area.”

“Excessive, shmexcessive,” I waved him off. “I’m just giving those maggots what they need. They’re weak. Sloppy. Unreliable. They shall rue the day they ever blamed their lack of success on their fickle Muse.”

“Why was that one woman covered with frogs?”

“They’re her chorus,” I explained. “I charmed them to ribbit in harmony, and to stick to her tunic like that. Hopefully their voices will drown out the fact that she has an awful stutter. I don’t even know what her name is; just that it begins with G. We’re trying to work the stutter into the act.”

“So you’re going with the over-the-top approach, as usual?”

“You know me well. By the way, what’s the Amphitheater’s structural limit on pyrotechnics?”

“You’ll have to consult Hephaestus on that one,” he admitted, “but I know his modifications this year are including more fireproofing. Calliope’s reenactment of the Battle of the Titans at the last Games’ exhibition was…”

“Epic,” I grinned. “But thanks for the suggestion. I’ll go ask him about it.” This was fortuitous timing. I’d meant to talk to Hephaestus about something else for weeks, but I had been waiting for an opportunity to do so without arousing Apollo’s suspicion. Here was such an opportunity just in time. The Pythian Games were only a week away.

I went home, got Pegasus, and flew to the game grounds at Delphi. I circled until I saw where Hephaestus was taking his dinner break. To my surprise, his family was with him. Aphrodite was draped next to him on a picnic blanket, the folds of her dress falling carelessly open, her skin gleaming in the sunlight like the palest of pink opals. If it weren’t for the fact that I know her, it would have been the loveliest, most alluring thing I’d seen in my life. It was a good thing the whole family had made themselves invisible to the mortal eye. Eros might not have enough lead arrows for the work crew.

Aphrodite looked my way when I landed, her golden hair fanning out behind her head in a perfect cascade. “Hello, Thalia, what brings you here?” she greeted me in dulcet tones.

“I need to ask your husband a couple things,” I said. “First, a question about pyrotechnics. What is the new, improved Amphitheater’s structural limit?”

“On pyrotechnics?” Hephaestus paused for a moment, probably to figure out a sufficient layman’s translation of the answer. “Remember Calliope’s exhibition on the Battle of the Titans?”

“Ohhhh, yeah.”

“She could put on ten of those.”

“Excellent,” I rubbed my hands together maniacally. “So you did add some fireproofing?”

“And structural reinforcement,” he confirmed, “which is also pretty important with concussive pyrotechnics.”

“I knew that,” I lied. “Next on my agenda, I had a question about our seating.”

“It’s in great shape,” he said.

“Well, I had a modification in mind. You know how Calliope always sits on the end at stage left? I’m wanting to reserve the opposite end seat, and…um…why don’t we just go there and I’ll show you what I had in mind? It’s sort of complicated.”

“Sure,” he agreed. “This won’t take long; don’t run off, now,” he softly chided his wife as she helped him up.

“Who, me?” she replied with a coy sparkle in her seafoam eyes.

Two more weeks, I silently begged her. I don’t know what you’re doing, but for all our sakes, keep it up two more weeks.

Mortals have come up with a lot of theories on how Zeus and Hera ever got the bright idea of marrying Aphrodite to Hephaestus. The correct one is that, as soon as Aphrodite’s existence became known, Zeus realized he’d have to act fast if he wanted to avert a civil war. That she should be married as soon as possible was obvious to him. That it was simply not in her nature to care that she was married was also obvious. So he betrothed her to the most even-tempered god he could think of, the one least likely to take revenge on her or her paramours.

Aside from the even temper, it didn’t hurt that Hephaestus has serious issues with being rejected and re-accepted by women. Hera, as I’ve mentioned, made Hephaestus by herself. It was her way of getting back at Zeus for making so many children without her. When Hephaestus was born, she was mortified by the fact that he wasn’t the divine specimen of physical perfection that Ares was. “Hideous” was her exact word.

So she threw him off Mount Olympus.

A full-blooded god can’t be killed, but one can sustain serious injuries, especially if those injuries are inflicted by a stronger god. Hera throwing an infant god out of the sky meant said infant would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. An old sea nymph found him and raised him. She recognized Hephaestus’ talent early on and, as soon as he was old enough, supported him in selling his creations for a cut of the profits. Within a few years, Hephaestus had developed a reputation as a brilliant smith/inventor/jeweler. It was then that Hera decided to acknowledge him after all. He’s been the official engineer of the pantheon ever since.

Hephaestus teleported to the pavilion above the Amphitheater, and I flew Pegasus up to meet him. The pavilion was at the top of a sheer wall where only the gods could reach it. However, with our divine powers of sight, we could see the stage from there as though we were in the front row if we wanted to. On this pavilion were three rows of seats. The nine central seats of the front row were permanently reserved for the Nine Muses.

If you recall, Apollo said he foresaw me immovably rooted to the end seat. That implied that someone was trying to remove me from it. And that could only mean my sisters and I were going to engage in a physical altercation over the privilege of sitting as far away from Calliope and Ares as possible. Yes, as improbable as it seemed, Calliope and Ares’ relationship had lasted three months and showed no signs of dissolving. None of us were any happier about the pairing than when it was first announced. If anything, we were increasingly more annoyed by its existence and by our beloved sister’s persistent departure from her usual good sense.

“Is it possible,” I asked Hephaestus, “to rig a chair so that whoever sits in it is stuck there until you personally release them?”

“Theoretically, who would be sitting in the chair?” he asked warily, not at all sure he wanted to get involved in whatever I had in mind.

“Theoretically, let’s say I would.”

“Is there any chance at all that I would get in trouble for whatever you’re planning to do?”

“There’s always some chance,” I acknowledged, “but in this case it’s extremely minimal. I don’t even think I’ll get in trouble.”

“How will I know when you want me to release you?”

“I’ll summon you, of course.”

“Well,” he said after some contemplation, “sounds like an interesting challenge. Come by in a week and we’ll test it out.”

I did. “This is great!” I happily approved as I struggled in vain to get out of the chair. “Here, you guys try to get me up.” Aphrodite pulled on my legs and Eros pushed on my shoulders. Yes, I was definitely stuck. No way my sisters were uprooting me from this spot. “Okay, let me up now,” I requested.

“Sure you don’t want a lap dance first?” Eros offered.

“Can you…?” I gestured.

“Sure,” said Hephaestus, smacking the little punk upside the head for me. Then he opened a panel at the base of the chair and triggered a complex-looking mechanism, and I was able to get up just fine. Once he closed the panel, it was seamlessly flush with the base of the chair. I wouldn’t have known it was there if I hadn’t watched him open it seconds ago.

“Nobody else knows how to work this?” I asked for reassurance, inspecting my chair. I wasn’t keen on the idea of bringing Aphrodite and Eros in on this, but Hephaestus had guaranteed it was safe.

“I’m just here to pose on the workbench,” Aphrodite dismissed.

“I could probably do it,” said Eros.

“I’m sure you could figure out the mechanism,” said Hephaestus, “but I’ve enchanted it so that I’m the only one it’ll open for.” To Aphrodite, he added, “You know, I’ve offered to explain this stuff to you a million times.”

“And I’ve told you a million times that I’m okay with the fact that you have the brains and I have the looks and never the two shall meet,” she said indifferently.

“I’ve got brains and looks,” Eros proudly protested, flexing his baby biceps.

“Highly debatable on both counts,” I ruled. Eros actually is quite pretty – very much a boyish version of his mother without a hint of any of his possible fathers – but he appears just young enough to be under my radar.

Eros flew away and Hephaestus teleported back to work, but Aphrodite lingered. “This whole thing still seems pointless to me,” she declared. “It would be a lot simpler if you’d have asked for my help.”

“I really don’t see how your powers are relevant here,” I said.

“Well, everyone knows you can’t stand Ares, but that’s not all, is it?” she probed. “Your sister is having this torrid affair with the god of testosterone, and you haven’t had a date in…what’s it been now, half a century?”

“That’s none of your business.” What, did she keep a calendar or something?

“Sweetie, I’m the Goddess of Love. It’s exactly my business.” She produced a ledger with entries on Thalia and Last Date. She made it disappear before I could make it disintegrate. “You’re not as upset about the fact that Calliope’s lover is Ares as you are about the fact that she has one and you don’t. Am I wrong?”

“I could get one if I wanted one,” I assured her.

“No doubt,” she acknowledged. “But, not having my wisdom in these matters, you’ll never understand that one man is as good as another. No, you want one particular lover, and you can’t get him. Besides the fact that he’s had his heart broken too many times, he’s so damned moral that he’d never get involved with a woman under his guardianship. And even if that weren’t the case, there’s you. You’re the goddess of happy endings. You cherish them so in the arts because you know how rare and precious they are in reality. As long as your love affair exists only in your mind, it’s safely within your domain. But if you bring it into the real world, other powers intersect and it’s beyond your control. You can’t guarantee your happy ending. That’s the other reason you can’t get him. You’ll never try.”

“What in the heavens, the underworld, or anything in between makes YOU qualified to pass that kind of judgment on me?” I demanded. “What’s the longest you’ve been faithful to one man? A year? A season? A month? Can you tell me with any certainty who any of your children’s fathers are?”

“Did you listen to a word I said?” she crossed her arms and drummed her fingers. “I’m offering you my help. I can make it so that you attend the Pythian Games as Apollo’s consort.”

“You’re suggesting I trick him into loving me? Hasn’t he been through enough of that?”

“When you help those playwrights and performers, are you tricking the audience into thinking they’re funny?”

“Of course not!” But now that she mentioned it, it wasn’t a bad idea.

“Right. The comedy is already inside them. You just help bring it out,” she said slowly and deliberately. “Same with you and Apollo. I wouldn’t be working with anything that wasn’t already there. What do you say?”

“I need more details,” I said, unable to believe I was even considering it.

“I wouldn’t do anything to increase desire. That’s obviously not the issue. I’d just remove some of the barriers in both of your minds to acting on those desires.”

“It still sounds unnatural,” I said. “How would that be any different than getting us both drunk? What would happen once the effect wore off?”

“I’m a goddess, not a keg of wine,” she said, consoling me with the knowledge that she was becoming as exasperated with me as I was with her. “I could make the effect permanent.”

“Which could result in an overall change in personality, or at least in our decision-making skills.”

“Damn it, why are you over-thinking this? It really isn’t that complicated. You want him. He wants you. Bang!” she clapped her hands together. “How many of my love affairs do you think would have happened if I’d thought about them?”

“Which is sort of my point.”

“Well, do consider my offer,” she persisted. “As a judge and a member of the planning committee, it’s my duty to offer some sort of blessing on the Games, and I’d really like to use it to get you and Apollo together – not out of generosity, or even out of sympathy for how very pathetic you are, but because I can’t abide seeing anyone remain celibate as long as you two have.”

“I don’t understand why you’re even trying to get my permission,” I said. Most of the time, she went around granting her “blessings” whether the recipients wanted them or not.

“If you must know, I’ve been feeling very underappreciated this summer,” she said. “People just aren’t as much in love with love as they used to be. They don’t want me as much as they used to. No, love isn’t good enough anymore. People want books and poetry and stupid black hair.”

“You lost me,” I frowned.

“The point is, I just don’t feel like putting forth the effort for someone who doesn’t even want my blessing to begin with,” she tossed her head. “It’s not like I need your permission. I have the power to do what I want to who I want when I want. I’m nearly as good as the Fates for guiding people’s lives.”

“I know that,” I said, positive she was deliberately speaking as though this common knowledge should be new information to me. “I wasn’t born yesterday. In fact, if you recall, I was born before you were.”

“And yet I have greater power, more influence, and a seat among the Twelve. In this random sample poll, people were 200% more likely to know the name of the Goddess of Love than of the Goddess of Comedy.”

“Random sample?” I grabbed the parchment. “This was taken at your temple!”

“My own temple,” she nodded. “One of my own temples.”

“Okay, so my followers are starving artists and yours are high-priced call girls and the men who love them. Whatever.”

“I’m bored now,” Aphrodite declared. “I’ll just have to come up with some other way to bless the Games – unless you change your mind, of course. Let me know at the committee meeting tonight.”

“Well?” Aphrodite approached me outside the Museum’s dining hall that night as we were assembling for the meeting.

“I can’t do it,” I told her. “If anything like that ever does happen between me and Apollo, I want it to happen on its own.” That was only part of the truth. The other part was that I didn’t want to be indebted to Aphrodite for anything I cared about. The Lady giveth, and the Lady taketh away. Still, I couldn’t help thinking – just thinking, not hoping – in a tiny corner of my mind that a general blessing on the games might end up affecting us indirectly.

The meeting was assembled in our dining hall. Besides Apollo and all of us Muses, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, Hermes, Artemis, and Athena were there. You may have noticed that Aphrodite is the only one on this list who has nothing to do with the arts or anything athletic. How, you may ask, did she get a seat on the committee? I was never entirely clear on that myself. When I asked Apollo, he told me he thought she’d make a fine addition to the planning committee, and that was that. So, yeah. I know he’s never slept with her, but he’s not blind.

On the subject of Aphrodite, it should be noted that she and Hephaestus were sitting as far away from Ares and Calliope as possible. However, the two ex-lovers had greeted each other quite cordially upon arrival. Ares’ behavior in general had improved a lot since he and Calliope had been dating. She doesn’t put up with much, and he was completely wrapped around her finger. Seeing Ares totally whipped was almost worth the aggravation of knowing my sister was the one wielding the whip.

Apollo called the meeting to order. The reports were pretty uneventful. Everything was going as planned. Construction was completed, the events were nicely populated, sufficient staff had been hired, and everyone’s exhibitions were ready to go. I don’t know how Clio doesn’t die of boredom when she has to take minutes at these meetings, but she seems to enjoy it.

“Ares,” Apollo said conversationally as things were coming to a close, “has your sister said anything to you about her plans for the Games?” I knew which sister he meant, and I noticed he was carefully avoiding the mention of her name. Ares didn’t.

“She’s right there,” he replied, thinking Apollo meant Athena. “Ask her yourself.”

“For the millionth time, I am not your sister,” Athena looked down her nose at him.

“Yeah, you are. Zeus is your father.”

“Zeus conceived you. He created me,” said Athena. “That doesn’t make me his daughter any more than this building is Hephaestus’ daughter.” Athena was correct. After Hera conceived Hephaestus solo, Zeus had to top that, so he created Athena in his mind and used his powers to bring her to life. She came to life fully grown and fully armed. Zeus called her a daughter, but she’s never called him father.

“Wait, my house is female?” Apollo interjected.

“Nine of us, one of you. The house is female,” I said.

“Athena’s right,” said Hermes. “By Ares’ logic, Zeus and Hera are brother and sister.”

“Aren’t they?” said Ares.

“Am I glad I dumped him,” Aphrodite stage whispered to her husband as she dramatically facepalmed. “You’re so much smarter than he is. I love smart, boring people.”

You dumped me?” Ares shouted. “Are you f-“

“Language,” Calliope chided. “It doesn’t matter anymore anyway, does it?”

“But you think of me as your sister, don’t you?” Artemis smiled as she squeezed Athena’s hand.

“Right. Of course I do,” Athena blushed. “Anyway, Ares, I’m pretty sure he meant your twin.”

“Oh, you mean Eri-“

Calliope clapped her hands over Ares’ mouth before he could get the word out. “Don’t. Say. The name. Please,” she requested.

“Apparently we don’t even need to speak the name to invoke the discord,” I laughed dryly, producing a box of popcorn. Apollo snapped his fingers and turned my popcorn to charcoal dust. The fact that he was unmoved by my consequent look of crestfallen sadness proved that he is among the evilest of the evil.

Aphrodite stood up. “I move,” she proposed, causing everyone in the room to shut up and listen, “that we conclude this meeting by granting our blessings upon the games. Apollo, if you’ll start, I’ll finish.”

“To all, clear days, good health, and good performing,” Apollo pronounced.

“To all, clear nights and straight shooting; and to the young women, safety,” said Artemis.

“To the contestants and the judges, wisdom,” said Athena.

“To the athletes, good performance; to the vendors, good profit; and to the thieves, good pickings,” said Hermes, “the latter two not being mutually exclusive.”

“To the fighters, kicking of ass,” said Ares. I could see Calliope’s eye twitching.

“To all, adventure,” said Calliope.

“To all, deeds worthy of remembrance,” said Clio.

“To the performers, performances from the heart,” said Erato.

“To the players and singers, sweet music,” said Euterpe.

“To those who face defeat, comfort and strength in the face of tragedy,” said Melpomene.

“To all the gods and goddesses, gratitude for the praise of our subjects,” said Polyhymnia.

“To all, the grace and passion of the dance,” said Terpsichore.

“To all, laughter and happy endings,” I said.

“To all, good fortune in the stars,” said Urania.

“To the buildings and equipment, strength and stability,” said Hephaestus.

“To whichever two among the gods and goddesses here whom the Fates will choose,” said Aphrodite, “may you each meet your true love at the Pythian Games.”

7 thoughts on “1.5 Let the Games Begin

  1. I’ve always thought the phrase “To be continued…” was one of the most evil in the English language. And now I get to be the evil person who writes that phrase. MWAHAHAHAAA!

  2. I can totally see Orlando Bloom at Eros, but I think George Clooney isn’t war-hungry enough for Ares. Hmmm…maybe Gerard Butler?

  3. Hm, more imaginary casting. Clooney:Not rugged enough for Ares, imo, but I could totally see him as Zeus now that you mention it. Gerard Butler: That’s more the type I have in mind. Orli: I’m not sure about him for Eros. I can’t think of any point in his career (which I’m counting as having begin with LotR) where he would have passed for late teens. I see more of a Zac Efron type, though not him in particular. I can see Orli as Hermes or Dionysus. My top choice for Hermes, though, is Matt Bomer (Neal Caffrey on White Collar).

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