When Zeus and Hera defeated the Titans and took command over their subjects, both divine and mortal, they instituted a lot of rules for the mortals to live by. This made sense, their divine brethren agreed. Mortals are weak and foolish. It takes plenty of regulating just to keep them from destroying themselves.
One of these rules was to give parents a certain amount of authority over their children for as long as the parents lived. The rest of the gods agreed to this. The more guidance in those pathetic humans’ lives, the better. Besides, mortal parents usually died pretty early into their children’s adulthood anyway, so no big.
But then Zeus and Hera decreed that it would be hypocritical for the gods not to follow the very rules they had established. Divine parents were given the same tenure of authority over their children as mortal parents. Since just about every god in existence at the time was a creation of the banished Titans, there was little opposition. For all that generation knew, their future children could end up being as unpredictable and rebellious as, um, THEY had been.
Then there was the question of what to do in the case of absent or unknown parents. Zeus made it simple. He was the default guardian for every remotely questionable case, like Aphrodite’s. My sisters and I were the first such case. It was determined that Mom was our guardian as long as we were in Hades, but when we were in Zeus’ kingdom, where no parent of ours had citizenship, Zeus was. Mom was pretty upset about that at first, but it turned out that Zeus left us alone for the most part. He’d call us to court when he wanted to be entertained or something, but overall, we just weren’t that important to him. It wasn’t worth the effort to exert that much control over us.
Though Calliope’s never outright said so, I think the main reason she never married Oegrus is that she didn’t want to get Zeus involved. Mom could have acted as her guardian if they had been married in Hades, but then the groom wouldn’t have been able to leave. They were married in all but name until his inevitable death.
Then there was Demeter. She created a child without a father, and she was a full-time resident of Zeus’ kingdom. There was no way for Zeus to get around it. Persephone was all hers. She had every legal right to forbid Persephone to marry the god of her choosing, namely Hades. That is, until Hades helped Persephone fake her own abduction and played the kingdom borders card as soon as they were home free. If Mom couldn’t be our guardian in Zeus’ kingdom, Demeter had no authority over Persephone in Hades’ kingdom. The only one who had to grant permission for Persephone to marry Hades was…Hades. Thus Persephone, the first of our generation to get married, set the precedent for the husband becoming the wife’s new guardian upon marriage. I suspect that’s another reason Calliope and Oegrus never married. Can you imagine, a goddess legally subject to a mortal?
The Year of the Virgin Mothers, Hera was the last to conceive and the last to give birth. The mother-as-guardian precedent was firmly in place. Hephaestus was Hera’s alone to do with what she pleased, even if what she pleased was throwing him off a cliff. I suppose it could have been argued that he was Poseidon’s while he was being raised by a naiad, but no one ever argued over Hephaestus.
And that, boys and girls, is why a centuries-old god enthroned among the Twelve couldn’t get married without his mom’s permission.
Apparently he couldn’t get married without his mom’s micromanagement, either. I was beginning to regret ever having introduced Hera to the joys of the stage. In the weeks before the wedding, she was summoning us practically every day to go over some addition, rewrite, or restaging of the music for either the ceremony or the subsequent feast.
This would have been bearable, possibly even entertaining, if it weren’t for the fact that being around Hera was making Calliope a nervous wreck. None of our sisters could figure out why Calliope had a near constant shudder, why she jumped every time Hera called on her, or why she was throwing up before every practice. Muses never get stage fright. Stage adrenaline rush or stage euphoria, maybe, but never stage fright. I reminded her that the best way to avoid arousing Hera’s suspicion would be to relax and act normal. As they always do, those words just made things worse.
One day when Aglaea came by rehearsal, she was so concerned about Calliope’s behavior that she offered to give her a checkup. Calliope agreed. Aglaea had been setting up a clinic on Olympus so she could have her practice there once she moved in. It wasn’t completely finished, but she decided to let Calliope be her first patient. Calliope asked me to stick around for the exam.
“I want to check your blood for poisons,” said Aglaea, pricking Calliope’s finger and squeezing a few drops of blood into a tiny divining chalice barely larger than a thimble. “You’ve seemed a little off since Aphrodite’s feast. Someone could have spiked your drink or something.”
“I think it’s just nerves,” said Calliope, surely at least as worried as I was that someone had made a connection to the night of the feast. “I’ve been going nonstop getting ready for the wedding.”
“I hear you there,” Aglaea replied with a grim laugh as she shook the chalice and gazed into it. “Having Hera looking over your shoulder all the time can’t be helping.”
“Why would you say that?” Calliope snapped.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t talk about my future mother-in-law that way, but I can’t help it. She’s been driving me insane with all this wedding stuff. The other day I was asking Hephaestus if it was always going to be like this. He said, ‘No, I’m sure as soon as I’m finished getting married, she’ll go back to forgetting I’m even here.’ We keep telling each other, let’s just get through the wedding.
Oh is not a word you want to hear from your physician when she’s analyzing your blood. You especially don’t want the word to be accompanied by a bemused, perplexed countenance.
“‘Oh’, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her, if she goes home and takes it easy she’ll be fine?” I said unhopefully.
“More or less,” said Aglaea. She addressed Calliope. “You were right about the nerves, but the main issue is that you’re approximately two weeks pregnant. Do you want to know if they’re boys or girls?”
We were silent for several seconds before Calliope said, “They?”
“Septuplets,” Aglaea replied. “You two don’t seem happy about this. Is there something I should know?”
“You can’t tell anyone, not even Hephaestus,” Calliope told her.
“No, never. All of this is confidential,” Aglaea promised. “But people are going to figure it out sooner or later. If you don’t mind me asking, are you and Ares back together?”
“I can’t believe I actually wish that were true,” she lamented. “Just don’t tell anyone. Anyone.”
“This doesn’t leave the room,” Aglaea assured her. “And if you need any help, please let me know. You know what? If you’re in trouble or something, you really should talk to Artemis.”
“NO!” Calliope and I said together.
“Okay, no Artemis. Guys, you’re scaring me.”
“You have no idea,” I said. I offered Calliope a steadying arm and started to open the door for her. The door opened without my aid. Through it walked Hera.
“Aglaea, darling, there you are. I wanted to talk to you about the bunting for the tables. I don’t think the colors you picked are going to work at all.”
“I thought for sure I said I was fine with eliminating it altogether,” said Aglaea.
“No, I don’t remember that. I only remember you saying you wanted blue and silver. You know what? I think we should eliminate it. Oh, hello, what are you girls doing here?”
“I wasn’t feeling well, so I came in for a checkup,” I said before Calliope had time to panic. “See? My blood. Aglaea says I’m fine. I just need to get home and rest. Calliope’s walking me home. Let’s walk home, Calliope.”
Hera picked up the chalice before Aglaea could stop her. “You’re pregnant,” she remarked.
“I didn’t know you could read a physician’s chalice,” I said conversationally.
“I don’t know much about medicine, but I am a prophecy goddess,” she reminded me. “Apollo based this invention on my divining chalice. In fact, I think I can…there. What a surprise,” she laughed with relieved sarcasm. “Apollo’s the father.”
“Even I can’t tell that,” Aglaea argued.
“I can see them together,” Hera showed her.
“I don’t see what you’re seeing,” said Aglaea.
“The picture’s very small,” said Hera. The chalice was only a centimeter in diameter. “But that’s definitely Apollo. Don’t worry, Thalia, the blanket’s hiding everything. All I see is your hair and your back.”
“I would really rather you weren’t seeing any of it,” I protested.
“Of course,” Hera said, handing the chalice to Aglaea. “I’m sorry to invade your privacy like that, but I had to be sure. You see, my husband was absent from Ares’ feast just long enough to make me worry, and since you obviously aren’t far enough along to be showing, I had to know.” Yeah, that totally excused picking up the freaking chalice in the first place. “Everything’s fine, though. It was unmistakably Apollo, and I could see that you two were nowhere near the forest where Ares’ feast was held.” Hera kissed my cheeks. “Congratulations, dear. You’ll be a fine mother. I’m just sorry you’ll have to share the little ones with Apollo.”
“They could do worse,” I thanked her. “My Lady, I just have one thing to ask of you: Please, please don’t say anything about this to anyone until after the wedding. This is Aglaea’s moment in center stage. We shouldn’t let anything distract the Pantheon from the celebration of this marriage, don’t you agree?”
“Absolutely,” Hera granted, “but the wedding is a week and a half away. With divine septuplets, you might just make the announcement yourself whether you want to or not.”
“I don’t know whether to thank you or strangle you,” said Calliope once we’d reached the safety of my room. “What possessed you to say that?”
“The knowledge that you’re my sister and you would have done the same for me.”
“We’d better tell Apollo and the others before they hear it from someone else,” she resolved. “Thank the Fates that my hair and bare back apparently resemble yours in the moonlight. Who knows, maybe Zeus thought I was you at first and that’s why he disguised as Apollo.”
“No, Zeus thinks Apollo’s sleeping with all of us, or at least that he should be,” I disagreed. “I doubt he knew or cared which one of us he’d end up with.”
“I keep playing the whole thing over in my head, but I honestly don’t know if he initiated things or if I did,” she fretted. “I want to believe it was all him, but I just don’t know.”
“You didn’t know it was Zeus,” I reminded her.
“That’s the point. Apollo’s my friend, and you – there are other considerations. I can’t know that I wouldn’t have done it if it really had been Apollo, and I hate that. I hate it so much.”
“Believe me, I’ve played it over in my head plenty of times, too, and I keep coming back to this conclusion: Zeus wasn’t acting like the real Apollo, so you weren’t responding the way you would have to the real Apollo. I’m sure he was manipulating you the whole time. It was not your fault, okay?” Yeah. I hated it, too.
I also hated telling Apollo that, within a month, the entire Pantheon would believe I was carrying his children. “Good,” was his wholly unexpected reaction.
“Excuse me?” I frowned.
“If Hera’s convinced I’m the father, Zeus won’t claim guardianship,” he explained. “I’ll be able to protect them. I doubt Zeus will connect ‘our’ pregnancy to his tryst with Calliope anyway. He’ll probably just tell me it’s about time, or something equally disgusting.
“Unfortunately,” he said to Calliope, “it won’t be long before it’s obvious that you’re pregnant and Thalia isn’t. Both of you can just lay low until the babies are born.”
“Actually,” said Calliope, “I’ve come up with a plan for the babies to be born before anyone finds out, and we’ll need you to make it work. We have until the wedding.”
As I’ve mentioned before, Asclepius’ mother, Coronis, was Apollo’s first love. She was a mortal princess. I never understood what Apollo saw in her other than, you know, what he saw in her. Anyway, while she was pregnant with Asclepius, Apollo found out she was cheating on him with the common mortal man whore she’d supposedly left for him. It’s a trick women of social standing use to avoid undesirable pregnancies – wait ’til after you’re pregnant by the preferred father to have an affair. Aphrodite tried this in reverse for the first century or two of her marriage, but when Hephaestus started marking eight months ahead on a calendar every time she propositioned him, she decided the jig was up.
Apollo told Artemis about Coronis’ infidelity. He didn’t ask her to kill Coronis, but when she threatened to, he didn’t stop her. He was overcome with regret about a minute too late. Artemis had already shot Coronis dead and thrown the body on a funeral pyre. Apollo’s efforts to bring Coronis back to life failed, but he was able to remove the baby in time to save it. He took the baby to a forest far away from both Olympus and the human cities and raised him with the help of Chiron, leader of the Centaurs.
Chiron taught Asclepius everything he knew about science and medicine, just as he’d taught Apollo before him. It was Chiron’s teaching that made Apollo a god of medicine. Their combined teaching, not to mention raw talent, made Asclepius The God of Medicine. One could say that Chiron saved Asclepius’ life. Based on his teaching, Apollo had invented a procedure for surgically removing an infant from its mother’s body.
If the baby is mortal, and the point is for the baby to live, the surgery can only be done very close to when the mother would have given birth anyway. Theoretically, if both parents are gods, the babies are immortal and therefore capable of surviving outside their mother as soon as they’re conceived. Theoretically. Apollo had never performed the surgery on a goddess before. Calliope’s plan was be the first. Apollo wanted to let the babies grow as long as possible, so we set the date for the night before the wedding.
We knew that, once the babies were released into the world, someone might still figure out that they were the children of Zeus and Calliope. Zeus would want them for his collection, possibly the reason he seduced a Muse in the first place. Hera would pour out her full wrath on at least Calliope, if not on all nine of us. She might even implicate Apollo somehow and target his demigod descendants. None of these were acceptable risks. That’s why the babies would be delivered by Lake Mnemosyne. We knew Mom would let them stay there. All they had to do was eat one bite of food grown in Hades, and they’d be citizens of that kingdom under Hades’ jurisdiction. Mom’s pomegranate tree would take care of that. Zeus would have no authority over the babies. And if worse came to worse, they could join the Inner Circle of the Mysteries, and no one could touch them.
Lying awake in my bed that night, I thought of all the things that could still go wrong. Someone could find out the truth in the week and a half before our plan was implemented. Apollo could make a mistake in the surgery. It had been decades since he’d done this kind of procedure, and a poorly-lit lakeshore isn’t an ideal medical facility. I knew the babies couldn’t die, but Hephaestus was living proof that permanent injury or disfiguration was a definite possibility. What if it was too soon for the babies to be born? What if they never grew, or if they grew wrong, or…something?
What if they were born without mouths? How could they eat the food of Hades if they didn’t have mouths? Or throats? Or stomachs? Nothing can be taken for granted with divine offspring, physically or spiritually. In planned pregnancies, a parent can will certain traits into a child, but even then, things don’t always turn out the way the parent anticipated.
Hera willed that Hephaestus would be a better man than Ares. He is, in every way but as a physical specimen. She also willed him to be unlike Zeus. That happened, and not necessarily in a good way. Zeus is all about gaining power. Hephaestus will accept power if you force it on him, but he’s not very good at claiming it when he deserves it. He never takes credit for accomplishments that were only made possible by his weapons and other inventions. Zeus is possessive to a fault. In spite of the fact that Zeus is an absolute slut, pity any other man who stares at Hera too long. Hephaestus hardly ever called Aphrodite out on her infidelity. On the rare occasions that he did, i.e. the Net Incident, it tended to be awfully passive-aggressive. I’m pretty sure the opposite of passive-aggressive is throwing huge freaking lightning bolts at whoever ticked you off.
Zeus’ creation of Athena was so much closer to conjuring than conception that Athena accurately claims to have no biological parents. Surely that method would give Zeus absolute control, right? His daughter would be perfect in every way, to his glory and Hera’s shame. That idea failed in so many ways.
First of all, do you know what happens when an artist is obsessed with a particular subject during a project, even negatively obsessed? Maybe especially negatively obsessed? That subject ends up being quite prominent in the finished work. Athena is more like Hera than any of Hera’s own daughters are. The strut, the attitude, the hair; it’s like Athena is a living statue for which Hera was the model. Also, through his intent to create a goddess who would be the wisest and most powerful of all his children, Zeus created one who was wiser than her “father” and who knew it from the second she came to life. As to whether she’s more powerful, thanks to her wisdom, we’ll probably never know.
No matter how much parents try to mold their children, I pondered, so much is still left up to the Fates.
I didn’t ask them to summon me. I hoped they wouldn’t. It had worked with Echo. Me and Apollo together, the God of Healing and the Goddess of Happy Endings. But what about Calliope? Plenty of epics ended in triumph for the hero, but nearly always a bittersweet triumph. So much personal loss for so little gain.
I went to her bed. Apollo had given her a sleeping potion mixed with a nightmare suppressant. I knew I wouldn’t wake her. With one hand on her head and the other on her womb, I silently proclaimed, Calliope, my sister goddess, known to many as the most beautiful, powerful, and wise of the Nine Muses. I claim an equal part in this story. Epics need comic relief. Heroes deserve happy endings. By all the power I have, that is my blessing to you and your children. You’ll be safe. You’ll be whole. All of you, I swore, will live happily ever after.
The next morning before breakfast, Aglaea came to our room and said she wanted to talk to us alone. “I altered the records to show Thalia as my patient yesterday,” she said. “I officially recorded that she is carrying Apollo’s children. The last part is true as far as I know, but I saw the way you two reacted to Hera yesterday, and I’m not stupid. I can be if you need me to be, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m not.”
“We need you to be,” Calliope said with stoic simplicity.
“If the occasion should arise, I can be blind and memory deficient, too.”
“Then you’re all set to live on Olympus, aren’t you?” I laughed dryly.
“I am all set to go on my honeymoon and spend an entire summer away from Olympus,” she laughed with me.
“Just the summer?” I teased.
“Hephaestus can’t be spared any longer than that. Besides, we’re really looking forward to setting up house together. Our quarters look incredible. I can’t wait to have you guys over. Hestia, unlike some goddesses I could mention, has been fantastic to work with. When I look at our home, I see us. When I look at our wedding plans, I see…”
“I know,” Calliope smiled in sympathy. It was good to see even that much of a smile from her. “Maybe you can convince her to stand at center stage flanked by peacocks while you and Hephaestus say your vows behind a screen.”
“Wedding peacocks,” I murmured in a faraway voice as my mind wandered to the realm of glorious possibilities.
“Speaking of which, don’t forget, Hera wants you guys on Olympus right after breakfast. See you.”
We ate a quick breakfast and carried out Hera’s orders. Calliope was the calmest she’d been since the night of the feast. I hoped my sisters wouldn’t ask why Hera kept giving me sentimental smiles and random hugs. While reviewing the staging of a chorale interlude, Hera called me aside to speak privately. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, dear, but you’re already starting to show.”
“I am?” My dress was getting burned the second I got back to the Museum.
“Yes. They’ll just get bigger and more obvious every day. I don’t think you should be in the wedding.”
“That’s fine, I guess,” I accepted. It was torture for a Muse to be denied the opportunity to perform, but I’d do it for Calliope. “Is there any particular place you’d like me to sit during the ceremony?”
“In your own house,” Hera clarified.
“What, you mean not come to the wedding at all?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“But I’ve really been looking forward to this wedding,” I objected as reverently as possible. “Aglaea’s my goddaughter, and Hephaestus is one of my best friends.” I bit my tongue before I could add, I’ve known him longer than you have, Mommy Dearest!
“Which is exactly why you won’t want to draw attention to yourself,” she maintained. “A wedding is all about the couple being joined in matrimony and the goddess who made their union possible.” Oh, the irony. “In fact, I don’t think you ought to come to any more practices. Go home, lie down, have a cup of tea, take the whole day off. Not for yourself, but for your children.” Huh. Was that how it worked? I could get into this motherhood thing. It was rather unfair that I would have all that time off when it should be Calliope. Even for a goddess, performing in a wedding hours after a major surgery was kind of extreme. If only there was some way to – hey!
“But I’ll be lonely spending all that time by myself,” I said with a sad little sigh. “Can one of my sisters stay home with me? That way you’ll have seven Muses, and that’s a luckier number than eight.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Hera ruled.
“Calliope,” I called before Hera could pick a companion for me, “I need you to take me home.”
Apollo was pleased with this new development. Calliope was safe in the event that she did start showing before the operation. Besides, with both of us conveniently excused from the wedding, he could wait another day to remove the babies. Getting Apollo excused was easy enough. We just had to convince Hera that he wasn’t worthy of the honor of performing at her son’s wedding, having knocked up a Muse and all. There was no need to reschedule with Mom since we had never scheduled a visit in the first place. We knew we were welcome to just show up, so that’s what we were planning to do. The least information given to the fewest people, the better. Everything was in place. Well, almost everything. One task remained before me.
I burned that damn dress.