I like to screw with people. No, not like that. Well, yeah, like that, but that’s not what I’m talking about. See, the loser mortal playwrights and poets have to beg me for inspiration if they want to hack out a decent comedy. And believe me, I like to make them work for it.
Take this guy Eustachys, for example. Please. Take him. If I never hear from him again, it’ll be too soon. The first time I heard from him, I was peacefully planting a rubber snake in Melpomene’s throne when the sweet sound of praise caught my ear. It was coming directly from my altar. I’m a sucker for praise, so I went to have a look-see. My petitioner couldn’t see me, of course. I was watching from the Museum on Mount Parnassus, and he was at my altar in Apollo’s temple down in Delphi, the city at the foot of the mountain. Don’t trouble your mortal head about it. It’s maaaaagic, get it?
Where was I? Yeah, Eustachys. The second he had my attention, the praise turned to supplication. Stupid mortals, always wanting something. Can’t they ever just tell me I’m awesome and leave it at that? This guy couldn’t. He wanted me to help him write a play. Oh, how novel, I thought. It’s not every day I get a request like this. Every minute maybe, but not every day.
“O Muse, O Thalia, O Goddess of Comedy,” he wailed, “If you will aid me in this endeavor, I shall give you whatever you require of me. Name your price, My Muse.”
Okay, this could get interesting. Usually they just offer me whatever sacrifices the useless priests suggest. This is stupid. The priests make these suggestions because they want the sacrifices for themselves. I never get them, and if I don’t get paid, the mortals don’t get help. Hey, a goddess has to make a living. And here was a mortal willing to help me do just that.
“If I may suggest-” began a nearby oh-so-helpful priest.
“Hey, not so fast; let the guy talk,” I called down on the loudspeaker. I hardly ever do that, because interacting with the mortals gets annoying very quickly. The priest panicked and dropped face down on the ground in front of my altar. Eustachys looked to the ceiling with this combination of terror and hope. Right where I wanted him. “When you say any price…” I prodded.
“I mean any price at all,” my worshipper said in full earnest. “I’m desperate. If I don’t have a play by the end of the week, I’ll have to go back to herding sheep. I don’t think I could bear that.”
“You seem to have a good handle on pathos,” I noted. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk to one of my sisters? Melpomene? Hey, Mel!”
“No!” he begged. “I don’t write tragedy. Surely you of all the gods would agree that comedy is the superior art?”
I was liking this guy better and better. “Yeah, but not everyone aspires to superiority. I think you may just have what it takes, though. So here’s what you’re going to do: bring me Apollo’s laurel wreath.”
“The wreath that the god Apollo wears on his head?”
“No, the one the kitchen boy Apollo wears on his pinky toe. Of course the one the god wears on his head.”
“Yours is not to question why, mortal. Just bring me the stupid wreath, put it on my altar, and burn it. As soon as I smell those barbequed laurels, you’ll have plenty of material for THE comedy hit of the season. Goddess’s honor,” I held up my hand in promise, not that he could see it.
“Thalia,” Terpsichore chirped as she twirled into the throne room, “come on, you’re going to be late for dance practice.”
“Hang on, Twerp, let me get off the line with this mortal.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t call her that,” admonished Calliope, who was with her. We Muses don’t know which of us was born first. Mom never told us. However, given the fact that Calliope’s always acted like Mom 2.0, we suspect it’s her.
“It’s just a nickname,” I waved her off. “They like it.” Terpsichore and her fellow Twerp, Euterpe, nodded in confirmation.
“Well, I don’t,” said Calliope. “It isn’t very nice.”
“Okay, then I won’t call you a twerp,” I muttered, getting a little irritated by these interruptions. “Let me get rid of this mortal, and I’ll be right there.” I turned my attention back to said mortal. “So, is it a deal? This is your last chance, take it or leave it.”
“I…I will try my best, my Muse.”
“Oh? Then I guess I’ll try my best to help you with your play.”
“It shall be done.”
“That’s better. The sooner I smell that laurel potpourri, the sooner you get your brand new comedy. Get to it.”
“Laurel potpourri?” Calliope repeated suspiciously as I followed her and the others to the dancing field. Calliope doesn’t approve of my interactive approach to my petitioner’s prayers. Since she’s the Muse of Epic Poetry, it’s probably for the best that she has a more hands-off style.
“It’s a pretty smell, don’t you think?” I evaded.
“I know why you like laurel offerings,” Terpsichore said in her perky little sing-song voice. “They remind you of a certain god, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” I groused, “and my desire for a certain god’s head to catch fire.”
“He has gotten kind of boring,” Terpsichore concurred as she skipped in circles around me. “What’s with these stately formal dances every single day? What’s the point of being the Muse of Dance if you can’t just turn loose on the dance floor?” She did a few spins on her toes with her legs at 180 degrees.
“He’s never up for a good practical joke any more, either,” I agreed. “Things that used to immobilize him with laughter now just get me a ‘Nothing in excess!’ reprimand.” Terpsichore and Euterpe fell into a giggle fit at my impeccable impersonation.
“He’s just trying to maintain order,” Calliope defended. “Speaking as the one who filled that role until Zeus gave it to Apollo, it’s not as easy as it looks.”
“And you were great at it,” I argued. “A lot better than Apollo is. If you weren’t so busy defending him, maybe you’d notice that he hasn’t been himself since he served his sentence. I guess a god having to spend a year as a common shepherd is a good setup for a personality change.”
“Are we talking about Apollo?” asked Erato as she joined us. “I know, right? What was up with that oracle? Daphne or whatever? She was so not his type. The whole thing just seems off.”
“I suppose you have a point,” Calliope admitted. “And it’s not like Apollo to keep pursuing a woman who’s unequivocally rejected him, especially one in his service.”
“True,” said Clio, who was walking alongside Erato, “but other than that, Daphne does fit his profile. Think about it. Coronis, Chione, Aria, Dryope, Cyrene,” Clio rattled off, “and even Hyacinthus and Cyparissus if you think about it – except they were, you know, men. He’s pretty good at picking people who eventually either leave him or die tragic deaths. Thalia used to say that Apollo in a stable relationship would be the biggest joke in the world.”
“Joke’s on him, considering a tree is about as stable as you can get,” I snapped. Sure, Clio was the Muse of History, but did that mean she had to record every mortal, nymph, and demigod that Apollo ever…Whatever. Who cared? I didn’t.
“Are we talking about Daphne?” asked Melpomene as she joined us. “How can you joke about that? It was so beautifully tragic.” A tear dripped out of the corner of her eye. She grabbed the tip of the scarf Terpsichore was waving and dabbed the tear away. “Which isn’t unusual for Apollo’s relationships, but this girl never even wanted him to begin with. No matter what he did or said, all she did was run.”
“I thought it was pretty funny,” I smirked.
“I’m glad someone is able to see the humor in the fact that my sister turned the love of my life into a tree.” I wasn’t expecting to hear Apollo’s cold voice just then. Ironic how “cold” could so perfectly describe the god who used to pull the sun across the sky in his chariot. But those days were over. Zeus had given the job back to Helios when he had condemned Apollo to a year of hard labor. Apollo could now devote all his energy to fulfilling the exciting new job Zeus had given him when the year had run out: governing the Muses. Yay, us.
“Love of your life?” I repeated. “Please; if you ask me, she preferred Artemis.”
“Well, I didn’t ask you, did I?”
“Take your places,” Apollo ordered the nine of us as he mounted his pedestal and brought his kithara into position. He played the most boring song ever while we practiced the most boring dance ever. Calliope, Melpomene, and Polyhymnia had liked Apollo’s stately, somber approach to the dance at first. Real Art, they called it. But after all these months, even they were starting to get a little bored with it. The Twerps and I exchanged looks, wishing we had the guts to stage a coup. I’d memorized this dance ages ago, so I let my mind wander for the next hour. At least, I think it was an hour. I lose track of time when I’m daydreaming. I fixed my eyeballs on Apollo so he wouldn’t notice that I wasn’t paying attention.
The sight of Apollo’s crown made me wonder how long it would take that pathetic mortal to get his hands on it. The solution was simple. Apollo took the crown off while he slept. All the mortal had to do was figure out how to scale Mount Parnassus, get into the Museum, sneak up on Apollo, pry the wreath out of his hands, get back to the temple, and burn it on my altar. I couldn’t give Eustachys any help, of course. That would be cheating. He could do it himself. Maybe he’d have it done by the end of the week; by tomorrow, even. I could smell those laurels cooking now…
I actually could smell the laurels cooking.
“Excuse me,” I raised my hand. “There’s something at my altar that I have to take care of.” I ran to the throne room before Apollo could deny my request. “What in Tartarus?” I hissed.
“I have done what you asked, my Muse,” Eustachys proclaimed with upstretched arms.
“You would lie to a goddess? That is not Apollo’s crown. I know this because I was just with Apollo, and his crown is on his head. I can see him through the columns of my throne room. Still there.”
Eustachys broke down at the foot at the altar and tore at his hair. “I tried,” he wailed. “I plucked the branches from his sacred laurel tree at the Oracle. I thought you would not see him while his chariot is still in the sky.”
“There’s been some reshuffling of the Olympian workforce lately. Now, give me a reason I shouldn’t strike you dead this instant.” One reason was that I didn’t have the power to kill humans supernaturally. I could kill them the way another human could, and I was much stronger than a human, but I couldn’t snap my fingers and kill or transform something the way the higher-level gods could. Fortunately, most of my subjects don’t know that. “Or maybe I’ll give you a fate worse than death: let you go back to being an ordinary shepherd.” That I could do.
“No, O most gracious Muse! Give your humble servant another chance!”
“My humble servant? You call giving me a fake wreath ‘humble service’? I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you another task to see if you’re even worthy of a second chance. If you do this right, I’ll reassign the first mission. Got it?”
“Anything, my Lady.”
“Call Pan and Dionysus to the Corycian Cave on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and host a feast.”
“A feast, Lady Thalia?”
“Yes, a feast, a festival, a party. Not just any party, a party so awesome that Dionysus will wish it was his idea. Loud, crazy music; tons of wine; a huge bonfire; and, of course, the most uninhibited dancing imaginable. Oh, and do it tonight.”
“But if I do this on Apollo’s very doorstep -”
“You can’t see why this is a good idea? Man, no wonder you can’t write comedy. Look, if you want my help, do it. If not, it’s back to the sheep.”
“What if Dionysus and Pan refuse my supplication?”
“Trust me, there’s no way Dionysus would pass up an invitation to harass Apollo,” I rolled my eyes. Due to some family history, I’m not really a fan of Dionysus, but I don’t have a problem with taking advantage of an old frienemy. “And Pan will take any excuse to party with the Muses.”
“Very well, my lady. I shall do what you ask.”
I hurried back to the dance field just in time to slide into my position in the final formation. I gave Apollo a cheeky grin. He acted like he didn’t notice, but he gave me an affectionate pat on the back of my head when he came around to check our poses.
“That’s all for today,” he declared. “You’re all dismissed.”
As soon as he was out of earshot, I whispered to the Twerps, “Party tonight at the Corycian Cave. Don’t tell Apollo. Pass it on.” Terpsichore pranced one way to spread the news and Euterpe ran the other. Thus the chain was started. My work here is done, I thought with a silent evil chuckle. I was a little concerned that Calliope might foil my plan, but the Twerps can be very persuasive, so I left things in their capable hands.
“Oh, my god!” I heard Melpomene scream from the throne room.
“What?” Apollo sighed, annoyed at being interrupted just as he was leaving to his temple.
“Thalia!” Apollo called.
“What makes you think it was me?” I asked innocently as I floated in through the pillars.
“The fact that this is exactly the kind of thing you think is funny.”
“I think many things for which I am not directly responsible are funny.” I kept up the innocent act, hoping to get a laugh out of him as I would have in days of yore.
“The snake says ‘Property of Thalia’,” he held it up by the neck showing its stamped underbelly. He showed no signs of laughing any time soon.
“Urania steals,” I said sadly.
“I do not!” she looked up indignantly from her star charts and brushed the hair out of her eyes.
“Look, when I took this job, I promised Zeus I could keep you in order,” Apollo said in exasperation.
“Before you make promises, you really ought to evaluate whether you’re capable of keeping them,” I pointed out. “‘Know yourself’ and all that,” I quoted his second-favorite mantra to him. “Which I imagine you’re doing a lot of these days since your girlfriend is A TREE.”
“You couldn’t possibly begin to understand my feelings for Daphne.”
“I wrote this poem about it,” Erato offered, unfurling a scroll out of midair. “Sound about right?”
“Just try to stay out of trouble,” Apollo scowled. “I’m going to the temple. Thalia, you’re coming with me.”
“What? Why?” I objected.
“Who, When, Where,” Clio added.
“Because apparently you can’t be left alone without causing chaos of some kind,” Apollo ignored her.
“Awesome, somebody caught the symbolism!” I praised. “People normally just think of the snake as a phallic symbol, but it’s actually a universal symbol of cha-”
“Shut it and come with me.”
“Alright, alright.” Amused by his increasing delusions of authority, I decided to play along. I made a great show of following him with heavy footsteps, my dejected body language contrasted by the comic mask I held to my face. My sisters laughed, even Mel and Calliope. I peeked around the side of the mask. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all week!” I said out of the side of my mouth.
I joined Apollo in the center of the throne room, and we teleported to his temple. Once we were there, I quieted down. I hoped that idiot mortal wouldn’t try to sneak back to the temple while Apollo and I were there. I could guess where Apollo was going. My guess was proved correct when we walked out of the temple to a divinely beautiful laurel tree in a little courtyard just outside it. Apollo and I had rendered ourselves invisible to the mortal eye, so if the moron tried to take another cutting, he’d be doing it right under Apollo’s nose.
Apollo knelt down on one knee and just stared at the laurel, playing a heartbroken melody on his kithara and singing along. I sat down beside him, grabbed a twig off the ground, and used it to draw comical stick figures in the dirt.
“Do you really think this is moderate?” I asked after about an hour of this. He just gave me a dirty look. “You’re all about the Golden Mean,” I continued unfazed, “but how is this not excessive?”
“What’s excessive about fidelity?” he argued as he kept playing.
“Fidelity requires a relationship, which requires two people,” I spoke up to be heard over the music. “Daphne didn’t want you. She begged Artemis to turn her into a tree just so you’d quit stalking her. That worked well, obviously.”
“Do you not know the difference between stalking and courting?”
“Sure I do. I’ve done both. It’s stalking when they turn into a plant. The fact that this is not the first time it’s happened to you should tell you something.” Okay, maybe that was a little low. The others had turned into plants when they’d died. But all of those times, Apollo had done a pretty good job of moving on. Like Erato said, this just seemed off.
He set his kithara aside. “How is it that no one’s ever turned you into a plant, or a rock, or something that doesn’t speak?”
“Try it,” I suggested. He waved his hand at me. Nothing happened. “That’s why,” I said. He waved his hand again, this time letting his fingertips lightly collide with my cheek. I returned the gesture, only not to the cheek on his face. He turned and glared at me.
“Don’t give me ideas,” he warned. I was about to retort, but then I noticed something in his eyes that didn’t look right. How long had he had those unnatural golden flecks around the edges of his grey irises? I tried to think of the last time I had really looked at his eyes. I couldn’t remember. “What is it?” he asked impatiently.
“I haven’t heard news from Olympus in months,” I abruptly changed the subject. “You still check in every day, don’t you?”
“Yes, which you would know if you ever got out of bed at a decent hour. Have to pay my respects to Zeus and Hera. Well, mostly Zeus. Hera isn’t speaking to me.” Zeus is Apollo’s father, but only Zeus’ legitimate children are allowed to address him paternally. Zeus doesn’t have many legitimate children.
“Again?” I laughed in disbelief. “What did you do this time?”
“I think she’s still upset about the ‘me being born’ thing.”
“If she’d just focus her anger on her husband instead of his innocent bastards, she could rule Olympus,” I opined.
A tiny, oh-so-moderate smile broke out of the corner of Apollo’s mouth. “Did you just call me innocent?”
“Innocent bastard,” I corrected him. “Hera likes me,” I commented with apparent randomness. Hera likes me because I’m the unofficial jester of the Olympian court, and she can always count on me to deliver pure, brazen snark to the other goddesses and gods. “I should visit her soon.”
“You visiting Olympus without a chaperone? Sounds like the ultimate disaster.”
Funny how centuries of Muse history had apparently left his memory when he was appointed our governor. “It’s not like it would be the first time. I don’t need a chaperone, and contrary to what Zeus seems to think, we don’t need a nursemaid, either.”
“I’m not a nursemaid.”
“Fair enough,” he sighed. He went back to playing his kithara.
“Now I can’t get Olympus out of my head,” I said, half to myself. “Seen Eros lately? I wonder how he’s doing. Probably still being a total brat. But what do you expect? We’re talking about the offspring of Aphrodite and…” I moved my hands up and down like the balances on a scale as I pondered, “Ares, Hermes, Ares, Hermes; had to be Ares. If you calculate the length of time between Eros’ birth and the Net Incident…”
Once again, Apollo smiled a little, though he was desperately trying not to. “You were the only goddess who didn’t leave the scene out of respect,” he recalled.
“Respect, shmespect. Hephaestus dragging the two of them to Zeus’ throne room in their birthday suits in a practically invisible net? How could the Muse of Comedy pass that up?”
“I knew there was a reason no one calls you the Muse of Dignity.”
“Yeah, whatever. Who was it that was teasing Hermes, ‘I’ll bet you wouldn’t mind trading places with Ares?’ I know it wasn’t me. In fact, the voice bore a distinct resemblance to that of the Pantheon’s champion of moderation.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to be trapped in the net with her, I was just pointing out that Hermes did.” It was very slight, but I’m positive I heard a genuine laugh. “Poor Hephaestus. I don’t think he knew what he was getting into.”
“Maybe he did,” I shrugged. “And maybe he didn’t care. She is, after all, Aphrodite.”
He laughed again, still slightly, but it was definitely a laugh. “So she is.” He paused for a moment. “He would’ve been better off if he’d stuck with you.”
“We were never that serious,” I dismissed. “No one even remembers we used to date.”
“You do.” Apollo returned his attention to the tree.
“You never forget your first,” I shrugged. But I was straying from my purpose. “So, can I go?”
“To see Hephaestus? Two wrongs don’t-”
“No!” How dare he suggest such a thing? “Just to Olympus.”
“I guess so. Have Artemis bring you home on her way out tonight.”
“I can teleport home.” My sisters and I can teleport from one sacred location, such as a temple or a god’s home, to another. More powerful gods like Apollo and Artemis can teleport from anywhere to anywhere.
“I want Artemis to bring you so I know you only went to Olympus and back.”
“Whatever. Enjoy the rest of your date.”
I teleported to the gates of the throne room on Olympus. The whole castle is a series of ascending rings built on a cloudy plateau that balances on the mountain peak. The throne room is the topmost ring. It’s open air, surrounded by columns and roofed by shining white clouds. Zeus and Hera are really into clouds.
A pair of servants led me to the throne room, where I paid my respects to Zeus and Hera. They were seated on their thrones at diametrically opposed points of the circle. I bowed to them both.
“Is Apollo keeping you out of trouble,” Zeus ribbed, “or have you been getting him into it?”
“Who, me?” I grinned. I responded to Zeus in accordance with the jovial way he spoke to me, but as always, I felt a little intimidated on the inside. Zeus is quite an imposing figure on his throne. His snow-white hair and beard just add to the glare of his crown. He has the face and figure of a warrior in his prime. And last but not least, he keeps a stash of lightning bolts right next to his throne at all times. I briefly wondered when the stash would start running out, since the Cyclops wasn’t alive to replenish it.
“What have you and your sisters been up to?” Hera smiled serenely. Hera, like her husband, had the appearance of a strong, magnificent human in the prime of life. Her regalia was as grand as his, though the silken veil that covered her long brown hair and the robe that covered her arms and shoulders presented a stately modesty in contrast to Zeus’ bare right torso.
In spite of Hera’s smile, her tone gave the distinct impression that I was to leave Apollo out of whatever story I told. It also gave the distinct impression that she did want a story, and she wanted it now. So I launched into a short but satisfying stand-up routine. This was not going according to plan. Naturally, I hadn’t really come here just to hang out. I wrapped up the routine as quickly as possible without seeming obvious. Zeus, Hera, and the random gods and goddesses scattered around the throne room applauded and threw roses.
The only deities enthroned besides the Royal Couple were Hestia and Demeter. It was a busy time of day, I supposed. The others must be at work. The rest of the handful present weren’t numbered among the Twelve. I noticed Zeus and Hera’s daughters, Hebe and Ilithyia. They had just been passing through and had stopped to hear my routine. A few of Hermes’ and Ares’ sons were hanging around, too. None of these people were very prominent, but all of them held status that demanded my recognition. I bowed and curtseyed dramatically to all sides.
“Will you stay all night?” Hera invited.
“No, Arte- I have to be home just after sundown.” I was careful not to name Apollo’s twin sister before Hera.
“I’m sure Apollo won’t mind if you stay a little longer,” she coaxed. “He’s so obsessed with that tree these days, I doubt he even realizes you’re gone.”
It was then that I heard a distinct snicker.
“I’ll see,” I smiled and nodded. “With your pleasure, my Queen, I’m going to catch up with some friends.”
“Go right ahead. Be sure to come back and visit soon, my lovely.”
I like Hera. I really do. She’s everything a goddess should aspire to be; powerful, beautiful, virtuous. I would never admit this for the world, but sometimes I feel sorry for her. The thing she’s always wanted most in life is the one thing beyond her power: a happy marriage. (Okay, being Queen of the Gods was a close second.) Her husband has had more children without her than with her, and many of those children have a place at her own royal court. Not even I can find any humor in her constant humiliation, though I have to admire the fact that she never gets mad, she gets even.
And that’s exactly why, in spite of my sympathy and admiration, I’m scared to death of her. It doesn’t take much for Hera’s vindictive side to come out. I’ve always had her favor, but that would make things even worse if she ever felt betrayal from me, real or imagined.
So it was very, very carefully that I lured Eros away from the throne room and through the next rings, the ones with the living quarters. I hummed one of Erato’s songs about unrequited love as I meandered down a short flight of stairs toward Eros’ quarters, which are right down from his parents’. When the timing was just right, I leaped to Eros’ sniper spot outside Aphrodite and Hephaestus’s door with blinding speed and pinned him down with his own bow.
Mortals usually think of Eros as a perpetual child. The truth is much more dangerous and infinitely more irritating. He’s a perpetual adolescent. “Stay there as long as you want, baby,” he smirked as I straddled him.
“Shut up, you disgusting little bitch,” I ordered, pressing his bow to his throat for emphasis. “I’d tell your mom to spank you, but you’d probably enjoy it. I want to talk to you about Apollo.”
“Oh, man,” he cackled. “I knew if any of the Muses caught on, it’d be you. You’re going to have to hand over the comedy crown.”
“What’s the antidote?” I asked.
“When my parents’ sisters fall in love with me. Zing!”
“Don’t quit your day job, perv. Here’s the deal. You tell me the antidote for your golden arrow and prove to me that it works, and I don’t tell Hera that you made her husband fall in love with not one, not two, but three of his paramours.”
Finally the fear of goddess started to creep into his ever so slappable face. “It’s the lead arrow,” he said quickly.
“Proof, or I go to Hera,” I reminded him.
“I can’t prove it while you’re sitting on me.”
“Oh, right.” I stood up and gave him back his bow. “Let’s see, test subjects…not your mom, she falls in love with everyone anyway; your dad’s a nice guy, I hate to toy with him; hey, what about-” I felt a sting, and then I felt an intense erotic euphoria that I’d never believed existed. At just that moment, Athena walked by on the way to her quarters. Athena. What an incredible name for such an incredible goddess. Nothing could turn me on like that combination of wisdom, strength, and sensuality. I knew in that moment that I wanted nothing more out of life than to spend eternity as Athena’s love slave.
“Athena!” I called out, falling at her feet and grasping the hem of her dress. “Please, take me with you, wherever you’re going. Never leave me again. I can’t live without you, my love. Come on, we all know why there’s never been a man good enough for you.”
“Um…Thalia, I don’t know what to…wait, look at me.”
She took my face in her hands and turned it up toward hers. How I love a forceful woman. I gazed deeply into her piercing eyes, grey as a storm on the horizon and every bit as wild and overpowering, as her melodious voice cried out, “Eros, get your diapered butt down here and fix this!”
I was only scarcely aware of a depressed sigh that made Mel’s tragic groans sound like giggle fits. “Fine,” he mourned. “And it’s a loincloth.” I felt another sting.
“Let’s just keep this between us,” I suggested, backing away and dusting my hands off.
“No problem,” Athena laughed indulgently. She turned to go, but looking over her shoulder, she winked, “For future reference, you’re right.”
“No! I – I like men! I really, really like men! I…oh, boy. Okay, kid, you’ve made your point. Give me a lead arrow.”
“I don’t think so.”
What in Tartarus? “What do you mean, you don’t think so?”
“I mean I promised to tell you the antidote and prove that it worked, not to give it to you,” he explained in smug triumph.
Hm. So he had. I thought about trying to force it from him, but he had those stupid wings, and I could only float a few feet above the ground. “Fine, I’ll figure out something else.”
“Good luck with that.” He flew out of sight.
Oh, well. There were other sources. I thought about checking Hephaestus’ quarters since I was right there, but I knew he’d be at the forge at this time of day. Besides, it sounded like Aphrodite had company. I went down to the last ring, made my way to Hephaestus’ workshop, and entered without knocking as always.
“Thalia,” Hephaestus smiled up from his anvil. “Is this a social visit, or are you here on business?”
“Can you make Eros’ lead arrows?” I avoided the question. “I know they’re his design, but surely you’ve reverse engineered them.”
“Naturally,” he nodded. Hephaestus is the inventor of just about every magic weapon ever used by a god. The ones he didn’t invent, he can reverse engineer in his sleep. It’s fortunate that the only one of the Twelve capable of forging divine superweapons is also the only one who has no interest whatsoever in wielding them. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure he could reproduce Eros’ arrows since I’d never heard of him using them on Aphrodite or her lovers. If my spouse stepped out on me as often as his did, I’d be shooting lead arrows left and right. “Wait,” he said warily, the thought having just occurred to him that I might have a motive beyond idle curiosity. “Why do you want to know that?”
“Would you be able to make one for me?” I asked. “I promise it’ll be destroyed after a single use, and I’ll make sure you’re well paid.”
“I might as well,” he gave in. “Just keep it a secret. And for you, no fee.”
“How about I owe you a favor?” I offered.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he insisted. “Your favors tend to have mixed results.”
“Did you really hate the trick cane that much?”
“Lack of people laughing at me has never been a problem I’ve faced,” he said shortly as he got to work on the arrow.
“I should have thought of that,” I admitted. He generally has a pretty good attitude about the fact that he needs a cane to get around. It’s easy to forget how much it hurts him that most of the Pantheon, including his wife and his mother, can’t see him as anything more than The Crippled Guy. “Next time, you pick the favor,” I offered.
“How’s Apollo?” he changed the subject. “Still in love with the laurel tree?”
“Still in love with the laurel tree,” I chuckled softly.
He looked up from the forge, though he kept working. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said sincerely. “If anyone knows what it feels like to love someone who’s in love with someone else…”
“I’m not in love with him,” I said.
“Whatever you say.” He looked unconvinced, but he refrained from pressing the issue and turned his face back to his work. “Daphne took everyone by surprise, though. A lot of us thought you were the reason Apollo asked for that job in the first place.”
“He didn’t ask for the job,” I corrected him. “Zeus assigned it to him.”
“No, he didn’t. Zeus offered him back his old job, but he turned it down. Governing the Muses was Apollo’s own idea. He claimed it was because influencing the arts was the best way to promote his newfound creed of moderation and temperance, but no one who knows the two of you believed that was the only reason. He’d never come out and say it, of course, but he really missed you while he was serving his time.” He picked up the arrow and gave it a visual inspection. It was perfect, completely indistinguishable from Eros’ work.
“There you go,” he handed it to me, shaft first for safety. “One lead arrow, guaranteed to inspire loathing in its victim.” Or indifference, if it was being used as an antidote. “You were never here.”
“Thanks,” I shook his hand. On my way out, I noticed a silver necklace with dozens of glittering strands, and a girdle that looked like it was made from a golden spider web. “These are gorgeous,” I admired them. “I’ll bet you’ll make a killing on them.”
“Nah, those are gifts,” he said. “The necklace is for Mom and the girdle is for Aphrodite. You think they’ll like them?”
I put up my laughing mask even though I couldn’t look at him. Mel’s mask would’ve been more honest. “I’m sure they’ll love them.”
But Hephaestus and his mommy issues weren’t my problem. Getting to the stable and hitching a ride with Artemis before she and her chariot took off for the night was. I caught up to her in the stable, situated on the lowest ring, just as she was leaving. She parked above the Museum, let me teleport down with a couple of her attendants as escorts, and continued her route as soon as they returned to her.
I went to Apollo’s room to make sure he was asleep. He was. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour was all part of his Moderation agenda. The fact that none of my sisters were in their beds indicated that they had already made pretense of going to sleep and sneaked out to the feast. I was relieved to see that even Calliope was gone.
What to do, what to do? Stabbing Apollo now while he was alone and helpless was the most logical course of action. On the other hand, if I woke him up, I’d possibly miss my own party. But back to the first hand, if I broke his enchantment, I might be able to persuade him to accompany me to the party as my date. He’d be the prettiest man there, even with Dionysus as competition. Apollo’s long, wavy golden locks, solid lean muscles, and smooth chiseled face were looking awfully tempting in the moonlight.
“Just killing a bug,” I shushed him, patting his shoulder with one hand and hiding the arrow behind my back with the other.
“You chased a bug into my bedroom?”
“It was a magic bug. It could’ve poisoned you.”
“Where is it?”
“It vaporized when I killed it.”
“Get back to- what’s that sound?”
“The Twerps like to sing each other to sleep.”
“That doesn’t sound like a lullaby.”
“What does one sound like?” I asked, lying down beside him and nestling into the crook of his arm so he could give me a demonstration. He stood up and grabbed his wreath, causing me to tumble out of bed. I turned the fall into a somersault and rolled to my feet.
“Not like that,” he said. “In fact, that sounds an awful lot like a drinking song, don’t you think?”
I could hear the Twerps’ voices sing/chanting, “Wake up in the morning, feel like Dionyseus, going down to Athens, gonna party with Theseus. Put on a little of that and a lot of this, cause no one’s taking me home except for Artemis.”
“Mummy used to sing us to sleep with that song every night,” I dabbed a crocodile tear from my eye.
I followed him around to all the bedroom doors, which were opened one by one to reveal the absence of their occupants. I took the opportunity to ditch the arrow when we reached mine. I’d destroy it later. We could still hear the Twerps loud and clear. “Keep on, beat the drum, til the rising of the sun; work fast, make it last, sand in the hourglass…”
“Why are your sisters singing drinking songs on the slopes of Mount Parnassus?” Apollo asked at the end of the last room, his tone attempting to impress upon me that the jig was up.
I’m not easily impressed. “How should I know?” I held out my empty hands. “I was with you all afternoon, then I went to Olympus, and then I came home with Artemis like you told me. You can ask her.”
“I still can’t help feeling you’re somehow responsible for this.”
“That’s because you suffer from paranoid delusions.”
“I suffer from living with you.”
“Which you asked to do.”
Apollo’s nonverbal reaction was not unlike that of a child caught eating sweets before dinner.
“Who told?” he asked.
“Hephaestus. Go easy on him. Anyway, let’s get to bed. It’s so late,” I yawned and stretched, turning him toward my doorway.
“I don’t think so,” he said as he grabbed me with both arms and lifted me over his shoulder. “We’re going to a party.” I laughed as he carried me out the door and down the hill like a keg of wine. The party was so loud that he didn’t realize it was all the way down at the Cave and we both could have just teleported. I couldn’t think of a good reason to tell him.
When we got to the scene of the crime, he dropped me in astonishment. I caught myself in midair and gracefully floated to the ground. The party was everything I had asked for and more. Pan was leading the band. Dionysus was tending bar. Terpsichore and Euterpe were at the center of the dance floor, jumping and gyrating to their increasingly ridiculous drinking song for all they were worth. “All the mortals lining up ’cause they wanting to snag us; but we throw ’em to the wolves unless they look like Priapus.” I wondered how much wine they had consumed to think that song was worthy of public performance. They’re both nearly capable of drinking Dionysus under the table. We know this because he once turned a group of lakes into wine for a drinking contest, which ended in a three way tie.
The rest of my sisters were there, too, surrounded by their devoted worshippers. Urania, usually the shy one, had an astronomer on each arm and one in her lap. Calliope, upon gleefully noticing our arrival, threw her goblet against a boulder and gracefully staggered over to greet us. “Hey, handsome,” she said to Apollo, running her palms down his bare chest. “Glad you finally got here. This party is EPIC.” In a rather amusing state of discomfort, Apollo took her hands and moved them away from his person. “Wanna dance?” she giggled as she spun herself into his arms.
“I might if you ask me when you’re sober,” he attempted to untangle himself.
I untangled them. It wasn’t as hard as he was making it look. “Calliope, want to get me some wine?” I suggested. “And hit on someone you won’t regret in the morning?”
“Sure, I’ll totally do that!” she agreed enthusiastically, leaving for the bar.
Eustachys, meanwhile, had been surveying the whole affair with nervous satisfaction. I’d hoped to avoid catching his eye, but the Fates apparently had other plans. I subtly gestured for him to stay back. Unfortunately, drunk people don’t notice subtlety that well.
“My Muse!” he cried as he tripped and stumbled his way toward me. “I have done alllll that you asked! Dionysus and Pan have been summoned – all four of ’em,” he illustrated by holding up three fingers on each hand.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I shrugged.
“But you promised!” he whined. “You said that if I held this feast as you commanded, you would give me another chance to-” he gasped as he saw Apollo next to me. “There it is!” he grabbed the wreath from Apollo’s head. Speechless and immobile, Apollo did nothing to stop him. The resulting combination of astonishment and wreath hair was quite adorable.
Eustachys threw the crown into the bonfire. “I have done it, My Muse! The wreath from the god Apollo’s head is burned as you asked. Now give me the comedy hit of the season as you promised.”
“Give it to him, Thalia. You promised,” my uncrowned escort deadpanned.
“Don’t you get it?” I ranted. “I shouldn’t have to tell you anything. You stealing laurels from Apollo’s tree to make me think it was his wreath? Funny! Me yelling at you for being that stupid? Funny! You throwing this party on Apollo’s doorstep, as you put it? Funny! Goody Two-Sandals being all up on Mister Moderation? Funny! Getting the Twerps so drunk that Terpsichore can’t dance straight and Euterpe wrote that song?”
“Funny!” the two of them clinked their goblets high above their heads, showering themselves with wine in the process.
“Aw, I never got a cute nickname before,” Calliope sobbed tears of utter delight. I doubted she’d be as pleased in the morning with the many nicknames she was likely amassing.
“Apollo consulting with Hades on an appropriate sentence for a wanton Muse?” Apollo suggested.
“Cheap pseudo-drama,” I brushed him off. “The point is, there’s comedy everywhere if you know how to see it. Write about what happened to you today. Write about your struggle to find something to write about. Write about how much you hated herding sheep. Write about that thing that happened to you that one time that you think only happened to you. It probably happened to everybody in your audience, and they’ll laugh once they realize that. So go. Write. Just let the thoughts tumble out of your head. And get them all out before you regain sobriety.”
“I shall, My Muse, I shall!” he swore, kissing the mask in my hand before he staggered away toward his home.
“He’ll be back to the sheep in a week,” I predicted.
Apollo clapped his hands together, making a sound like a thunder clap. “Everyone,” he ordered, “party’s over. Clean this up. Thalia, come with me.” Dionysus and Pan disappeared instantly, but Calliope rallied our sisters and the mortals to carry out Apollo’s orders.
Apollo and I ended up at the laurel tree. Really? The laurel tree? Had Eros tricked me? Had Hephaestus betrayed me or made a mistake? “Pick some branches,” said Apollo with a suspiciously benign calmness, “fit to make a crown with.” I did. It was no big deal. I figured all along that I’d end up doing this. “Twist them into a crown,” he directed. It was a lovely crown, better than the old one. “Put it on my head.” I smoothed his hair a little before I complied. I’m nearly as tall as he is, so there was no need for me to reach or him to bend. As I placed the crown on his head, he clasped his hands around my waist. Our faces were close enough to…be really close together, I guess.
And in the moonlight, I could see his clear, grey, laughing eyes. “Thank you,” he said. “I know what you did. When I look at the laurel now, I just see a tree.”
“How did you know?” I laughed. “I thought I hid the arrow well enough.”
“I destroyed it while you were distracted by Euterpe’s charming song.”
“Then why did you want another crown if you’re over Daphne?”
“Because I look good in it,” he grinned as though that were the most obvious thing in the world. “Don’t you think so?”
“So, I saw Eustachys’ play,” Apollo approached me with a subtle smirk as I was lounging in my throne. Sometimes being immortal really sucks. This was one of those times.
“Trash,” I shook my head. “Pure and utter trash. I should smite him for giving me credit for it.”
“That love scene in the Corycian Cave was-”
“It was a work of art. So was the actress playing Thalia, though their Apollo left so much to be desired.”
“I thought he was more than adequate,” I remarked. “He actually made the pairing look somewhat believable.”
“Let’s go,” he said. “You’re late for dance practice.”
“I hoped that would quit once you were over Daphne,” I chided. “You’re still not as much fun as you used to be.”
“I’m grateful to you for undoing Eros’ enchantment, which is why you’re off the hook, unlike the fictional Thalia in the play. Now that I think of it, her rather inventive comeuppance was my favorite scene. Anyway, I realize now just how much I neglected you and your sisters while I was obsessing over Daphne. You couldn’t be held responsible for your actions.”
“No. You were bored and undisciplined. So from now on, we’re going to double the dance practices, add in a few hours of chorale practice, and…”
I was distracted from Apollo’s very long, very boring list by an unknown voice coming from my altar. “Oh Muse,” the strange man called, “If only you would bless me with a comedic sonnet!”
I bolted for the dancing field.