3.11 Ashes To Ashes

Athena, Zeus, and Clio were huddled in conference over the score. Clio wasn’t an official judge, but her presence in the huddle wasn’t much of a surprise. Her observation and timekeeping skills were impeccable, so it was only natural that she’d be brought in to consult on the precariously close finish. More noteworthy was Aphrodite’s absence. She’d disappeared without a word as soon as the match was over, which made me think she’d been called to the medic tent. I couldn’t follow without making Apollo suspicious, so I just stayed in the box with him and waited for a verdict.

Which could not have been more awkward. After a few minutes, I opted for breaking the uncomfortable silence. “So, you want that hand job now?” I said.

“Do you mind explaining what all that was about?” Apollo said.

“Turns out if you eat one of these grapes, whoever holds the thyrsus controls your actions for a not-yet-conclusively-determined amount of time,” I said.

“I definitely wasn’t – Why would I even – We’re in public, for Fates’ sake!”

“But you’d be cool with it if we were in private?” I said.

“I – When have I ever asked you for anything like that?” he said, bewildered and embarrassed.

“Never in my recollection,” I said, “but evidently you were thinking about it.” Besides the schadenfreude factor, this line of conversation seemed to be distracting Apollo from the question of how I came to be experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. So I continued it. “Here,” I tossed it to him. “Why don’t we see what else comes to mind?”

He dropped it like a hot iron and scooted away from it. “I swear, I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything like that,” he insisted.

“But you admit to subconsciously thinking about it?” I grinned.

“It seems I can’t reasonably deny it, but it probably would’ve happened with any sufficiently attractive person,” he said.

“Sufficiently attractive?” I repeated as I dramatically fluttered my eyelashes. “That’s just what every girl dreams of hearing.” I snapped up a small blank scroll and a quill. “Dear Diary,” I quoted aloud as I scribbled nonsense on the scroll, “Today Apollo called me ‘sufficiently attractive’! Happyface, heart heart heart, x-o-x-o.”.

Quite predictably, Apollo incinerated my props. Unpredictably, he overshot a bit and also incinerated the thyrsus.

“Wow. Hope Dionysus has a spare,” I said.

A fanfare from the royal dais saved Apollo from replying. “After careful deliberation,” said Athena, “we have concluded that Poseidon is the winner of this match, which means the tournament is tied. The next match will be tomorrow at the same time. Location to be announced. You are all dismissed. Those in attendance, go forth and celebrate. Those in the tournament, go forth and prepare.”

“What do we do now?” I said to Apollo.

“If I were you, I’d talk to Hephaestus about a new thyrsus,” he said.

“Me? You’re the one who burned it,” I said.

“You’re the one who borrowed it,” he said.

“I had a very good reason for borrowing it,” I said, “that reason being that whatever idiot was holding it could control my physical actions. You would not have been that idiot if you hadn’t taken it away from me in the first place.”

“How was I supposed to know you were holding it for a legitimate purpose?” he said.

“You weren’t,” I said. “But you could’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have been thinking about whatever I was evidently thinking about if you hadn’t kissed me last night.”

“You kissed me back.”

We were quiet for a minute. “Do you really want to have this conversation?” I asked at last.

“I don’t,” said Apollo.

“Awesome. Me neither. I’ll get back to Dionysus and make something up, and you go do whatever you want to do. See you at tomorrow’s match.”

I teleported to the medic tent. Before I could so much as open my mouth to greet the small crowd therein, I felt Apollo summoning me to Parnassus. I ignored him. The sight of Beroe on an exam table struck me as more pressing.

Particularly since she had a huge gash that started on her outer thigh and ran down the length of her leg. Aglaea was doing her best to keep Aphrodite, Dionysus, and Euphrosyne from crowding her. Athena was standing off to the side, perfectly restrained on her own.

“You told me she was fit for anything!” Aphrodite was screaming. “How did you put it? ‘War machine’?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” said Beroe.

“Losing a leg isn’t fine,” said Aphrodite.

“She’s not in danger of losing it,” said Aglaea as she kept working on the gash. “And I didn’t know she’d be fighting sea monsters.”

“Yeah, none of us did,” said Aphrodite. “Because I guess it’s against the rules of Athena’s game to give my daughter enough information to protect herself.”

“I know what Beroe’s capable of,” said Athena. “If I had reason to believe she couldn’t survive a battle with a sea monster, I wouldn’t have let her fight one.”

“I did fine!” Beroe insisted.

“You did better than I would have, love,” said Dionysus. “And if that scars, you’ll be no less beautiful for it.”

“Who friggin’ cares?” said Beroe. “And stop calling me ‘love’. You know we’re not a real couple. I’ve been very honest and – OW! – upfront with you about that.”

“How did this happen?” I asked. “I didn’t see anything, even with spectator vision.”

“On the second wave, I was thrown overboard and snagged my leg on one of Charybdis’ teeth,” said Beroe. “I shapeshifted an uninjured leg since the real Dionysus would’ve healed up on his own by the end of the match. It was just a cosmetic illusion. I can’t really heal a wound from a sea monster on my own.”

“It’s going to be just fine,” said Aglaea. “You’ll be feeling back to normal in no time. But Charybdis is an incredibly powerful creature, so there might be a scar.” Beroe seemed immensely pleased by this idea.

Aphrodite didn’t. “You’re supposed to be pretty powerful yourself,” she said to Aglaea. “What kind of healer are you if you can’t even keep my beautiful baby girl from being disfigured for life?”

“Disfigured?” said Beroe. “Really? Why does everything have to be about looks? Do you even care whether I can still race or hunt or anything else I actually like doing? Would you care about me at all if I hadn’t turned out looking like you and Dad? Or would you have given me away like all the others?”

“Beroe!” Aphrodite cried.

“I need you to stay calm,” Aglaea cautioned Beroe. She quietly motioned to Euphrosyne, who quickly joined her.

“I’m sure your mom just wants you to be happy,” said Euphrosyne as she gently placed a hand on Beroe’s shoulder.

“Yes, exactly,” said Aphrodite. “I’d be miserable if I had to live with a scar like that.”

“Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m not as shallow as you,” said Beroe.

“Yes, you are,” said Athena. “You want it to scar because you think it’ll look badass. It’s the same reason you chop the hair off your head and grow it on your legs. Wanting to look ruggedly masculine isn’t less appearance-conscious than wanting to look elegant, or sensual, or anything else.”

“Thank you,” said Aphrodite. Beroe, who was succumbing to Euphrosyne’s happy spell, didn’t say anything.

“No problem. I have this conversation at home a lot,” said Athena. To Aglaea, she said, “How soon do you think she’ll be ready to compete again?”

“You’re not going to be happy with this,” said Aglaea.

“I accept the full spectrum of emotion as a natural, essential part of existence,” said Athena. “Tell me.”

“I’d give her at least forty-eight hours,” said Aglaea.

Athena was quiet for a moment. I hoped she’d do the sensible thing and trust Aglaea’s judgment, because a struggle between these two goddesses over the well-being of Aglaea’s patient wasn’t something any of us wanted to see.

At last, Athena declared, “You’re the physician. I’ll make up some excuse to delay the next match. You,” she said to Beroe. “Do everything your physician tells you. I want you in prime condition by the next match. You,” she said to Aphrodite, “keep working on your side project. And you,” she said to me, “keep up the moral support.”

“What do I do?” said Dionysus.

“Whatever you usually do,” said Athena.

Dionysus clapped his hands. A wine barrel appeared next to him. “Drinks, anyone?” he offered. I thought about taking him up on it, but I had work to do.

 

mask.stock

 

Despite all the chaos at the match, one thing hadn’t escaped my notice: that Hera’s absence continued to have escaped everyone’s notice. Even Zeus’. Athena was pretty damn good at creating a distraction. She’d keep making the spectacles more and more spectacular for as long as it took for Hera to make up her freakin’ mind about Ixion. And, while I was fairly convinced that Athena wouldn’t let Beroe die or be permanently harmed, I also didn’t believe she hadn’t seen this injury coming. She was putting pressure on Aphrodite to work her magic on Hera.

So it looked like the most helpful thing I could do was to join forces with Aphrodite. Telling Aphrodite this would probably be counterproductive. Thus I ended up en route to the grounds of Olympus for a bit of surveillance and reconnaissance.

But first I had an errand at Hephaestus’ workshop. I figured it’d be best to put in the order for a new thyrsus first and pick it up when my surveillance and reconnaissance was done for the day. The door to the workshop was closed. I could hear machinery and low voices inside. “It’s Thalia. Do you have a minute?” I called.

“I’m with a client,” Hephaestus called back. I translated this as You can come in if you’re invisible and I never find out, and acted accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it since I got my Helmet of Darkness.

I teleported inside the workshop. The client was Athena. “Do you think Thalia’s gone now?” she asked, at a volume barely loud enough to be called a whisper.

“I’m sure she’s not,” said Hephaestus. “She’ll probably wait outside until you leave unless she gets bored and distracted first.”

Well, that was insulting.

“Then we’ll have to keep our voices down,” said Athena. I was kind of suspicious. Fooling Athena shouldn’t be that easy. Whatever she was about to say was probably something she wanted me to hear. Wait, if she was about to say something she wanted me to hear, did that mean she already knew I was going to come here? How could she know that? Had she deliberately manipulated me into coming here, or had she just extrapolated this information and used it to her advantage? Or had she really not expected me at all, and was she now improvising? Was I capable of circumventing Athena’s plans the same way I was capable of influencing the Fates? Was anyone capable of circumventing Athena’s plans? Why bother with mind games and manipulation anyway? If there was something she needed me to do, why couldn’t she just say, Hey, Thalia, I need you to do this thing? I’d do it. Probably. Maybe. I think. If I didn’t hate it. Maybe it was something I’d hate and she’d have to make me like it. Did she do this a lot? How many things did I think I wanted to do that were really just things Athena had tricked me into thinking I wanted to do and I actually hated? Why in Tartarus hadn’t Athena taken over the whole Pantheon a long time ago?

“So you’ll take care of it?” I heard Athena say to Hephaestus.

“If you say so,” he said.

I had absolutely no idea what Athena had just asked him to do.

I silently beat my fists toward my forehead, stopping just short of clanging on my helmet. Athena walked toward the door. I hastily teleported out so she’d see me when she opened it. Then I took my helmet off so she’d see me when she opened the door. I held it behind my back and jammed it into a bag. Just in time.

“Hi,” I waved as Athena exited the workshop.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Athena said, “Had to go over some plans for the next match. The plans have to be kept a secret from both contestants, of course.”

“Of course,” I agreed.

“Because if either of them had an unfair advantage, the other could use it to contest the outcome,” said Athena.

“And we do not want contested outcomes,” I shook my head. “Of the outcome. Of the contest.”

“See you at the next match,” said Athena. Then, thankfully, she went on her way.

I entered the workshop and made extra sure to carefully close the door behind me. “I can’t tell you the plans for the tournament,” said Hephaestus. He was locking a roll of parchment, likely the plans for whatever he was supposed to be building for the next match, in a drawer in his workbench.

“Wasn’t even going to ask,” I said. “If, for example, you happened to know whether Dionysus will need to use his thyrsus in any of the matches, I wouldn’t expect you to tell me that.”

“Good, because I can’t,” said Hephaestus.

“But I guess if, hypothetically, Dionysus had lent it to someone and that someone’s idiot Governor incinerated it, Dionysus would miss it before the next match anyway, don’t you think?”

Hephaestus rolled his eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “I’ll have a new one ready in about an hour,” he said. “It’ll be made to the exact specifications of the other one. Dionysus won’t know the difference.”

“Thank you so, so, SO much,” I said. “I owe you one.”

“Please don’t,” he said.

“And just out of curiosity, what are those specs, exactly?”

“The sooner you leave, the sooner I get started, and the less likely either one of us gets in trouble.”

“Right. Thanks again. I’ll be back later.”

An hour wasn’t much time, which was great in that it’d give Dionysus less time to miss the thyrsus and ask questions about it, but I’d have to be quick about spying on Hera and Ixion.

I put on my helmet and headed for Hera’s pastures. Eris had reported running into “Mom and New Dad” there the other night. Taking Eris at face value was an even worse idea than taking Athena at face value, but it seemed like as good a place to start as any.

I scouted around for awhile and didn’t find anything. Apparently Hera still wasn’t stupid enough to meet Ixion outdoors while it was still light. In that case, there was no way she’d meet him in either her quarters or his. I sat down on a tree stump in the pasture and tried to think. If I were Hera, and I wanted to meet someone without being found by Zeus or by anyone who’d snitch to him, where would I go? She’d never go somewhere like Persephone’s Doom, which had been Aphrodite and Adonis’ favorite hideaway. Helios would turn them in.

Now that I thought of it, that wasn’t the only reason. Persephone’s Doom had been an obvious choice for Aphrodite and Adonis to have an affair. It was a place of unbridled natural sensuality. The perfect spot for two people who wanted nothing more than to succumb to nature. Hera and Ixion, who I figured were still trying not to have an affair, would be looking for the exact opposite. Where would I go if I were with someone I wanted to sleep with, but I didn’t want to sleep with him?

I wouldn’t go.

I went to the palace ring with the guest quarters and knocked on the door of the best chamber. Pomp and circumstance dictated it should go to Poseidon, hence I guessed Zeus hadn’t kicked Ixion out of it in favor of Poseidon. But just to be on the safe side, I left my helmet on when I knocked on the door.

Ixion opened the door himself. This surprised me since I’d imagined Zeus would’ve supplied him with at least one servant. He stepped out and looked around. I darted inside, got rid of my helmet once I was behind Ixion, and went into mortal visibility mode.

“Hey,” I said. Startled, Ixion turned to face me.

He closed the door behind us. “I recognize you,” he said. “You’re that Muse, aren’t you?”

“Thalia,” I said. “I have eight sisters. Not a huge fan of being called ‘that Muse.'”

“Why are you here?” he said. “I did everything you asked regarding the playwright.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s doing great,” I waved him off. Apparently he wasn’t going to offer me a seat, so I betook myself to his chaise and flopped back on it. “The Lapiths are fine. Thessalay’s fine. I hadn’t seen you around at the big tournament that’s been going on, so I thought I’d come check up on you, see how you’re doing, all that. So, how are you?”

“I’m well,” he said. “I’ve abandoned hope of seeing my kingdom again and resigned myself to a life sentence in this gilded prison, but I am well-kept.”

“Do you ever leave your quarters?” I asked. “I’m a big proponent of cage-free, free-range humans.”

“I’m free to walk the grounds,” said Ixion. “Leaving them is another matter.”

“Yeah, I guess it’d be hard for a human to nail the landing,” I said. “Do any of the Olympians ever help you get off? I mean, off of the grounds? Leave the grounds?”

“At times,” he said. His countenance indicated that that was all the information I was getting on that subject.

“What about when you’re at home?” I asked. He seemed nervous, so I tried to let up on the eye contact and, instead, began tracing random squiggles in the grain of the upholstery. “Guests usually either bring their own staff or get one on loan.”

“Three fine meals appear each day,” he said. “I’m told the room reorders itself in the night.”

“Who told you that?” I asked. The existence of self-ordering room technology was news to me. We Muses didn’t bother with a household staff because we have a system and we don’t like people touching our stuff.

“The one who dismissed the servants I was first lent,” he said.

“Why did they do that?” I laughed. “Were they punishing you or experimenting on you?”

“Experimenting?”

“Oh, nothing. The science gods totally don’t experiment on humans without their knowledge or consent ever, so ignore that.” I noticed a loose bit of piping at the back of the couch cushion and suddenly lost the ability to unnotice it. I started picking at it, trying to tuck it back in. “Anyway, it must get lonely here. Do you get many visitors?”

“I prefer when I don’t,” he said.

“Yeah, the Olympians aren’t the best company,” I said. “It’s way more fun on Parnassus. You should visit sometime.” My fingers found their way to the underside of the couch cushion. It was soft and cool. I absently ran my hand back and forth in a soothing rhythm.

“I’ll take that into consideration,” he said.

“Bring a friend if you want,” I offered.

“Thank you.”

“So, um, out of curiosity, if you were going to bring a friend, who would you bring?” I was nailing this reconnaissance thing.

“I would let you know in advance, I assure you.”

“Good. Good.” What was this? I felt something metal poke my fingertips. Being a lover of gaudy, dangly jewelry, I knew that sensation and texture all too well. I hooked my fish and reeled it in. “Hey were you looking for…?” Oh. This ring definitely wasn’t Ixion’s. Pearls, diamonds, and opals were put together by gold to create an exquisite white peacock.

“That’s mine,” said Ixion, holding out his hand.

“Really?” I said. “In that case, you’re an idiot. If an Olympian goddess gave me one of her rings, I’d be a lot more careful with it. You never know what’s going to set one of them off.”

“Very well; no one gave it to me. I don’t know whose it is. It must’ve been left here by accident,” he said, trying again to reach for the ring. I pulled it back.

“Why didn’t you say so?” I said. “I’ll take it to Hephaestus and ask him who the owner is. It’s obviously his work. I’m sure he’ll remember who he made it for.”

Ixion surrendered. “I swear I’ve been with no one since Dia,” he said. “But I do know the owner of that jewel, and it would be best for all concerned if you’d let me return it to her while protecting her anonymity.”

“If you haven’t ‘been’ with her, what is there to protect?” I asked, still holding onto my evidence.

“Her husband would suspect the worst, and things would go very badly for her,” he said.

“Maybe if you tell me the secret, I can help protect it,” I offered. “It’s likely that I have more favor with the lady than with her husband, anyway.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “You’re like Athena.”

“Not that kind of favor,” I rolled my eyes. “And if your lady is who I think she is, she wouldn’t reciprocate anyway.”

There was a shift in Ixion’s countenance. It was then that I knew for certain that he knew that I knew. “She won’t,” he said, “with anyone, and I can’t ask it of her. I couldn’t ask it of any married woman. But for this one especially, it would be a betrayal of everything she is.”

“Maybe you two haven’t done it yet,” I said, with both sympathy and caution, “but can you honestly say you’ve done nothing?”

“We have done nothing,” he said. “Except fall in love.”

“Why not take it all the way, then?” I reasoned. “You’re kind of having an affair anyway. I mean, if I were married and my husband fell in love with someone else and lost jewelry in their couch, I’d feel cheated even if they never touched each other. In fact, honestly, if it came to that, I’d prefer he just left.”

“She can’t abandon her marriage,” he said.

“Then why don’t you back off?” I said. “If she’s so dead set against leaving her husband, things can’t be that bad between them.”

“Things are worse between them than anyone knows,” he said.

“Then why hadn’t she already left him by the time you came along?”

“Could you leave the theater?” he said.

“I have left individual theaters, for all kinds of reasons,” I said. “The acoustics were off, or the stage was too small, or the walls were crumbling around me and the only reasonable course of action was to tear it down and build a new theater. In all of that, I never left The Theater. In fact, if you ask me, staying in those theaters would’ve been a spit in the face to the institution of Theater. I’m a freakin’ goddess. The mortals look to me as their prime example of what comedic theater is. If I hadn’t put my foot down and said ‘This ain’t it,’ what kind of example would I be giving them?”

“Are you honestly suggesting that I persuade this woman to leave her husband for me?” said Ixion.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said. “But if I had a friend in that kind of situation, I think I’d encourage her to leave her husband for herself.”

There was a knock at the door. “I was never here,” I hastily whispered right before I teleported away.

Once I was safely in my throne room at Parnassus, it hit me that I’d just missed a great opportunity for information-gathering, and that I should’ve stuck around with my helmet on. But I was still too spooked to try it. It would, of course, not be the first time I’d spied on Hera with my helmet on. I was pretty sure that Mom could see through it at will, though. If she had that power, Hera might have it, too. I couldn’t risk that. Not for myself or for the greater plan.

And, I reasoned, I had done my part for the greater plan. Aphrodite was taking the wrong approach with Hera. Getting her to sleep with Ixion was incidental and basically useless. She’d already fallen in love with him. What needed to happen now was for her to leave Zeus. It could be done. There was already a precedent for divorce among the Olympians, even among the known children of the Titans now. The royals. And who had more authority over the matter than the Goddess of Marriage? I hoped my little pep talk had influenced Ixion, and that he would, in turn, influence Hera.

“Thalia,” Apollo called to me as he entered our throne room. “Can we talk in private? This is very important. I’ve been trying to summon you all afternoon.”

I was out of excuses. “Might as well get it over with,” I said. “My quarters.”

I led the way and kept my mask up the whole time. I wracked my brain trying to think of a good answer for when Apollo would inevitably ask why I’d had Dionysus’ thyrsus. Fates, the thyrsus! I still had to pick it up! Oh well. I’d get it later. Hephaestus wouldn’t mind.

As I led Apollo into my quarters and closed the door behind us, I decided on an incomplete version of the truth. That I wanted Dionysus to win the tournament, so I’d been helping him experiment. A pastoral theater goddess was the last person qualified to teach anyone the noble art of self-defense, but it would be far from the craziest thing I’d ever tried.

I sat down on my couch and invited Apollo to sit next to me. He did. “Spit it out,” I said.

“Once I was home from the match,” he said in a low voice, “I realized that I had no idea why you’d been experimenting with the thyrsus in the first place. I tried summoning you so I could ask, but you ignored me. This gave me a lot of time to formulate my own theories. You’re doing this for Beroe, aren’t you?”

“How did you know?” I went along with it.

“It was obvious once I thought about it. You were right. I’d been so wrapped up in protecting ‘my’ little girl that I hadn’t thought about any of this rationally. And, as much anguish as it brings me to acknowledge this, you have.”

“Go on,” I smirked.

“Someone has to win the tournament. Dionysus is the best candidate. He’s so much more malleable and easily distracted than Poseidon. While either man is likely to forget all about Beroe sooner or later, Poseidon would keep her and neglect her, the same as he did Amphitrite. Dionysus would literally forget all about her eventually, and she’d be free of him.”

I patted Apollo’s shoulder. “I knew you’d catch on sooner or later. Who’s a smart boy?”

He rolled his eyes. “It is a good plan,” he said. “Except for the fact that you’re probably the least-qualified fighting coach imaginable.”

“Hey, bitch came really close to winning today, didn’t he?” I reminded him.

“Close to winning is still losing,” said Apollo. “And while you were away, Hermes brought news that the next game is being delayed because of technical difficulties, which means Athena has more time to come up with something even more spectacularly challenging.”

“You do have a point,” I said. “After I give him the new thyrsus, I’ll back out if that’s what you think is best.” Damn it, why did I say that? Why didn’t I just hold up a Suspicious Behavior sign?

“It isn’t,” said Apollo. “The play is perfect. It’s the casting that needs work. I’m going to help train Dionysus myself.”

mask.stock

3.10 Distractions

I followed Beroe back to the river bank in case she changed her mind about Orpheus’ secret, but it didn’t happen. Instead, she summoned Dionysus. I decided to stick around and keep an eye on things.

Dionysus had appeared, sprawled on the ground and wrapped in velvet, with a large chuck of flesh ripped out of his bare shoulder. “You could’ve finished up whatever you were in the middle of,” said Beroe.

“No worries, I already finished a few times,” he said. His shoulder was repairing itself as they spoke. By the time he’d finished his sentence, it looked like he’d never been injured in the first place. “But I’m ready to go again.”

“No,” said Beroe. “I summoned you because I want to practice with the thyrsus underwater.”

“It’d be a simple matter to get your own thyrsus,” said Dionysus. “Hephaestus is practically family to you.”

“It’s a signature weapon,” said Beroe. “Legally, I couldn’t have one made without you authorizing it anyway, so I figured, why not just borrow yours and save the time? Which is becoming more of a moot point the longer we discuss it.”

Dionysus produced his thyrsus and handed it over. “Mind if I watch?”

“Go ahead,” she permitted, taking hold of the stalk. “As long as that’s all you do.”

“If that’s what you want,” he said, “though I imagine it’d be more helpful if I showed you a few tricks with it.”

“There are more moves than the vine grab?” Beroe asked with sincere interest. I was interested, too, since I’d never thought about the thyrsus being used as a weapon before all this. Dionysus had gone into battle before, but he hadn’t done much actual fighting. His forte was more making up insane maneuvers on the spot and sending his expendable minions to carry them out.

I got some popcorn.

“Watch,” said Dionysus. He plucked and ate a grape from one of the vines wrapped around the thyrsus. “Now,” he said, “imagine me doing anything.”

As if moved by a marionette’s string, Dionysus’ left hand slapped his face on one cheek, then the other. This movement was repeated a few times until Beroe decided he was enjoying it too much. Dionysus sat down in lotus position with his hands at his side, still in ecstasy.

“Whoever holds the thyrsus controls the actions of whoever eats from it,” Beroe surmised. “Do they have to be holding it while the subject eats from it?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “Never was much for experiments. Well, that’s not true, but not in the sense that you science types do them.”

“I’m not a science type,” she said. “That’d be Athena or Apollo. Or my brother, kind of. Anyway, how long does the effect last?”

Dionysus shrugged. “Few hours? I just give or take another grape when it starts wearing off if I’m not already bored with it.”

“‘A few’ isn’t very helpful,” said Beroe. Dionysus did a handspring and nailed the landing. I held up an invisible “9.8” scorecard. “The match doesn’t start for a few hours. Stick around so I can see when the effect wears off,” she said.

“I’m yours to command, during and after,” he said.

Beroe twirled the thyrsus and shot some vines around a nearby sapling. “Athena said we won’t be using signature weapons until the last round anyway,” she said. She gave a slight tug on the thyrsus. The vines uprooted the sapling and brought it to her. “But I figure it doesn’t hurt to get in some practice. Here.” She took off her bow and quiver and tossed them to Dionysus. “Put this on,” she said.

He put on the quiver and picked up the bow in a disaffected, random manner. Then suddenly he was holding it in a perfect position. He fit two arrows to his bow, each at a different angle. He let them fly. Two leaves fell from a tree, each neatly severed at the stem.

“You’ve really never thought to weaponize this?” said Beroe.

“Not ’til today,” he said.

Obviously Dionysus was well within Beroe’s control, so I let my guard down. I could’ve just gone home, I suppose. But I couldn’t think of any particularly compelling reason to. If Apollo asked where I’d been all day, I’d tell him I was keeping an eye on Beroe. He surely couldn’t object to that. Anyway, it seemed unlikely that he’d ask. He would’ve summoned me by now if he was bothered by my absence. It was nice to have a break, I silently laughed to myself. I’d been trying to get Apollo off my back for the last five years, and it turned out all I had to do was make out with him. If only I’d- “Ah!”

Crap. I hadn’t even noticed Dionysus doing an evasion roll toward me, and I was too lost in thought to stop myself from crying out when he knocked into me. I scrunched back, hoping he hadn’t felt me and no one had heard me. Then I saw that it was a moot point since I’d spilled my now-visible popcorn.

“Show yourself!” Beroe commanded. I could’ve just teleported home, but I imagined she must be getting flashbacks of mortals and demigods killed by invisible enemies. I didn’t want to give her more anxiety than she was already dealing with. So I took my helmet off.

Beroe surveyed me with justified suspicion. “Seen your sons lately?” she asked.

“You mean my nephews?” I said. I hoped that was clear enough to assure Beroe that I was myself and not a shapeshifter, yet vague enough not to give Dionysus more information than he needed.

“Why are you here?” asked Beroe.

“I didn’t feel like going home, so I stuck around after the meeting adjourned this morning,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone was coming back.”

This answer appeared to satisfy her. “Since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful,” she said. She held out the thyrsus toward me. “Eat a grape,” she said.

“Why?” I said. “You already tested it on him.”

“I need to see if I can control more than one subject in different ways,” said Beroe.

“You can,” said Dionysus. “I think a hundred and forty-seven is the most I’ve done.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “As long as you can get Poseidon, it’ll be easy for you to wipe out any of his minions on your own. The tricky part is going to be getting him to eat the grape while you’re holding the thyrsus.”

Beroe smacked herself in the forehead. “So friggin’ obvious! Why did I not think of that?”

“I thought she might feed the Maenads before the match,” said Dionysus.

“That’s what I was thinking, too,” said Beroe.

“Oh, yeah. That’d make more sense,” I said. “Go with that. Forget I said anything about tricking Poseidon. Or having any more contact with him than you have to, ever.”

“No, you’re right,” said Beroe. “Why bother with the Maenads when I can just make Poseidon stand still and take damage for the whole match? I can even make him impale himself with his own trident. So, how do we get him to eat a grape?”

“How should I know?” I said.

“It was your idea,” said Beroe.

“I imagine you could persuade Poseidon to do anything you want, love,” said Dionysus.

“No way,” said Beroe. “I literally would die before I’d pull the ‘Give me this because sex’ thing.”

“Does it matter who feeds the grape to the subject?” I asked. “I mean, would you still be able to control Poseidon if someone else feeds him the grape?”

“Let’s find out,” said Beroe. She shifted the thyrsus toward Dionysus. He took a grape. Beroe ran down the riverbank until she was out of our sight. Dionysus handed me the grape, and I ate it.

Before I knew what was happening, I was turning cartwheels in a figure eight path.

Beroe quickly rejoined us. “Give the thyrsus to Dionysus,” I said, thankful that my musical theater experience gave me the ability to talk while doing a backflip.

Dionysus took the thyrsus from Beroe. My hand involuntarily crept to my shoulder and started teasing at the knot that held my gown in place. “Give it back to Beroe,” I ordered.

Beroe grabbed it back. “Okay, then,” she said. “We’ll get some grapes, turn them into wine, and make sure Poseidon drinks it before the match. And make sure I’m holding the thyrsus the entire time.”

“I can think of so many ways that could go very, very wrong,” I said. “Potentially hilarious ways, but some are potentially fatal. No, not fatal. Lethal. No, not that word, either. You die. No, no, you don’t die! But you could. But you won’t. You will live happily ever after. Because I said so.”

“You can turn grapes into wine instantly, can’t you?” Beroe asked Dionysus.

“Darling, I can turn water into wine,” he said.

“Guys, let’s please not do a cup-switching scheme,” I said.

Beroe grinned. “That’s perfect!” she said. “We’ll switch out his cup before the match.”

“It’s brilliant!” said Dionysus.

“No, it’s not brilliant,” I said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Unless…you’re the god of wine. Can you enchant a goblet so that only one person can drink out of it?”

“I’ve never tried, but there’s a first time for everything,” said Dionysus. He threw a seductive smile at Beroe.

“Mine won’t be with you,” she muttered under her breath.

“I don’t mind if you want to get a bit of practice first,” he said.

“Hey, remember our deal?” she said at full volume.

“Yes, yes; marriage of convenience, mother’s death story, got it,” he waved her off. “I’d best get to practicing goblet enchantments, and you’d best be off before your entourage comes looking for you.” He disappeared, leaving the thyrsus in Beroe’s hand.

“I can hang out and practice if you want,” I said. “You probably ought to test more variables, like how long it takes the effect to wear off.”

“You’re right,” she said, “and I’d rather not summon him back. Thanks for sticking around.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of time.”

 

mask.stock

 

We worked through lunch, which, thankfully, Beroe provided. Every few minutes I lost control of my body and found myself doing handstands or high jumps or something. After a couple hours, this activity tapered down to handclaps or standing on one foot for a few seconds.

“Are you not able to make me do bigger movements now?” I asked.

“I’m just getting bored,” said Beroe. To prove it, she crouched down and made me take a flying leap over her head. I nailed the landing. Rather, she nailed my landing. I predicted much soreness over the next few days. “We have to be at the stadium in less than an hour, so I guess I’m not going to find out how long the effect lasts. You’re still trying to resist, right?”

“Um. Yeah. Still.” Oops. How could I leave out the most important factor? This function of the thyrsus was almost certainly designed for willing participants. Poseidon wouldn’t be one.

Beroe’s head fell back as she sighed in frustration. “You haven’t been trying to resist at all?”

“Honestly, I’ve been kind of zoning out the whole time, except for lunch,” I said. “But, hey, I’ve got everyone’s outfits picked out for the tournament!” My winsome smile was not returned.

“Start running up the riverbank and focus all your energy on getting to that boulder,” she said, pointing to one about a hundred yards away. “Now.”

“Ma’am, yes, sir!”

I started jogging in that direction. After a few paces, I was frozen in place. As Beroe said, I focused all my power toward reaching that rock. I tried with all my might to move my limbs forward. All I got for my effort was pain, tachycardia, and sweat, as though I were straining against invisible titanium bonds. I kept straining. I felt my body being turned in the other direction. I fought the turn with everything in me, but it didn’t have any effect other than increasing the strain on my body. My legs started running away from the rock, my arms pumping along. I did everything I could to dig my heels in, to fall to the ground, to do anything but run in the direction Beroe was pushing me. It was all to no avail.

Wait. In my path was a smallish tree root. Beroe might not be able to see it from her vantage point. I directed all the energy in my being into my right pinky toe. When I ran by the root, I managed to move my toe a half inch to the right, though it felt like I was breaking my shin in the process. My toe caught the root. I tripped and fell forward.

I felt my bonds release. Beroe ran to me. “Did I trip you, or did you trip yourself?” she asked.

“I did,” I said, rubbing my poor, broken pinky toe. “I don’t suppose you have a first aid kit on you?”

“You live with a healing god, who you’re supposed to meet up with in-” she looked at a little sundial that hung on a cord around her neck “-less than half an hour. Let him take care of it.”

“That’ll be a fun conversation,” I said.

“Don’t care. So, what did you do?”

“I stuck out my toe,” I said. “That was the only movement I could manage.”

“Hm. I wish we’d been doing this earlier. I don’t know if you were able to do that because of your resistance ability or because the effect is getting weaker.” I felt my hands clap in a rhythm behind my head, then above it, then in front of me. “I can still control you easily enough without resistance. Oh, well. We’ll do some more practicing before the final round.”

“Yay!” I gave a half-hearted cheer.

“You’d better get home and get cleaned up,” said Beroe. “I don’t want anyone asking questions.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said. I’d barely have time to snap myself clean and  presentable. Which was unfortunate, because a bubble bath would’ve been awesome right about then.

“Here.” She handed me the thyrsus. “You hang onto this until after the match. I don’t want anyone else to start puppeting you and Dionysus and figure out what we’re doing.”

“Also sounds good.” All I’d have to do was come up with a believable story as to why I wasn’t letting the thyrsus out of my sight for the rest of the day.

Beroe disappeared. I snapped myself clean. Then I snapped up a full-length mirror and a small trunk full of clothes and accessories. Why bother going home when I could bring home to me? Once I was sufficiently glammed up, I sent it all back to my room and teleported to the beach.

 

mask.stock

 

I went straight to the announcer’s box, because otherwise it would look like I was deliberately avoiding Apollo, which of course was ridiculous. As it happened, I was the first one there, so who was avoiding whom now?

I took my seat and positioned the thyrsus so that the bar hid it but I could still keep my hand on it. Then I took a look up at the crowd. Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus-as-Beroe were already on their dais at the front of the floating bleachers. I was certain it was really Dionysus because no one seemed particularly fixated on him.

Hera was again absent. Ixion was, too, though I doubt anyone noticed his absence anymore than they noticed his presence these days. Euphrosyne was sitting with Eros and Psyche in the bleachers. I couldn’t see Aglaea, so I figured she was in the medic tent. Calliope, seated with the rest of our sisters, waved to me. I waved back. Hermes fluttered over to her, then sped to the announcer’s box.

“Calliope wants to know where you were all day,” he said.

“Working out,” I said. I flexed my bare right arm, my left still holding onto the thyrsus. “I work out now.”

“If you say so,” Hermes shrugged. He swiftly returned to Calliope, then back to me again, just as Apollo appeared in the box. “Calliope said to tell you that she’s sending me to Persephone for a weather report, because she doesn’t believe Tartarus has frozen over. But she’s not really.”

“Tell Calliope to sit back and enjoy the game,” I said. “Bye.”

Hermes left.

“I don’t want to know,” said Apollo.

“I concur,” I said. “So, how are we doing this?” I asked as he got situated next to me. “Are we going underwater in a bubble as soon as the match starts?”

“The water’s clear,” he said. “We should be fine with spectator vision.”

“Have you ever seen a sea battle?” I asked.

“Have you?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted. “I imagine there’s a lot of churning.”

“Spectator vision can see through it,” said Apollo. “Which is why a theater god has more of an advantage in battle than one might think.”

“Whatever. Ow!” His sandal had brushed against my broken toe. He hastily moved his legs to the other side of his seat at an angle.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s so cramped in here.”

“It’s okay, I stubbed it earlier, so it’s kind of sensitive.”

“Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.

“It’s no big deal,” I said. “By the end of the match it should be healed on its own.” But my misdirection was too little, too late.

“Why are you holding the thyrsus?” he asked.

“To make sure Dionysus doesn’t try to use it during the match,” I said.

“Who’s holding the trident?” asked Apollo. “Poseidon’s’ the one who cheated last time.”

“I don’t know, I’m just doing what I was told,” I shrugged. Judging by Apollo’s expression, that line sounded as believable to him as it did to me.

Apollo signaled toward the stadium. Hermes appeared in the box again. “I hear some people come to these games for fun,” said Hermes. “Entertainment? Recreation? Not work?”

“Would you ask Athena who’s guarding the trident?” Apollo asked.

“Might as well; got nothing better to do,” said Hermes. He flew to Athena and back. “She says she doesn’t know, but to trust Thalia,” he said. Then he flew back to his seat.

“There you have it,” I said, “straight from the Goddess of Wisdom herself. Want to repeat that message just so I know you heard it? I should get the Twerps to incorporate it into a musical number.”

“Give me that.” Before I could stop him, Apollo grabbed the thyrsus and put it on the other side of him.

I decided to let it go. Fighting would only make him more suspicious, as would telling him any part of the truth. I wasn’t sure which part would give him a bigger anxiety attack; the fact that Beroe was the one fighting Poseidon, or the fact that she was spending more time alone with Dionysus. Besides, this was likely the safest snafu possible. Apollo wouldn’t use the thyrsus against me since he didn’t even know how, nor would he have any motivation to return it to Dionysus sooner than absolutely necessary.

Heralds sounded trumpets. Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite rose. The intro was pretty much the same spiel as last time, so I tuned it out. I felt a twinge of pain as my toe absent-mindedly brushed against Apollo’s ankle. “Sorry,” I whispered, pulling my foot back toward my corner of the box and making a mental note to stop fidgeting.

“You’re fine,” Apollo whispered back. “But pay attention.”

“I am,” I lied.

Two cloud platforms appeared before the dais. Poseidon was on one platform, and Beroe-as-Dionysus was on the other. Poseidon’s loins were girded with a pure gold cloth, which struck me as kind of a dumb choice in regard to comfort. “Dionysus” wore a one-shoulder chiton covered with purple sequins and trimmed with metallic green beadwork. The top half of her hair was pulled back in an elaborate braid that had a golden grapevine woven through it. My baby was learning how to put the fun in functional. Or maybe Euphrosyne had picked it out. Whatever.

“Contestants will now surrender all weapons,” said Athena. Neither of them made a move. “All weapons,” she repeated with a pointed look at Poseidon.

Poseidon whipped off his loincloth. Dionysus-as-Beroe looked on with a nod of appreciation. Beroe-as-Dionysus gave her counterpart a warning glare. “Sorry, My Lady,” Poseidon said to Athena. “You should’ve taken this one when you had the opportunity. It’d be a bit difficult to remove.”

“It wouldn’t,” said Athena. “But seeing as it won’t be of any use to you in the match, I’ll let you keep it for now. The two of you will fight this round with no weapons. You will, however, each have an ally. You may each choose one sea monster to command. Poseidon may choose from among his own stables. Special thanks to Amphitrite for loaning hers to us for Dionysus’ use.”

“Hers?” Poseidon protested. “All creatures of the sea are my subjects!”

“Amphitrite has retained custody of all the monsters she created,” said Zeus. “It was in the terms of the divorce.”

Aphrodite shook her head and clucked her tongue. “Should’ve read it before you signed,” she said.

A scroll stretching hundreds of feet toward the ground hung in the air before each contestant. “Scylla,” Poseidon said without bothering to look at his scroll.

“That’s on mine,” said Beroe-as-Dionysus. “I pick Scylla.”

Poseidon growled as he flicked his scroll, making it slowly roll itself up. “Charybdis, then,” he declared.

“Please confirm your selections,” said Athena.

“Charybdis,” said Poseidon.

“Scylla,” said Beroe at the same time.

Well within sight, but far into the deep waters, two gigantic creatures appeared about ten battleship lengths apart. The one on the right was Scylla. Imagine a sea lion. Now imagine an evil sea lion. Jagged fur, glowing red eyes, spiked flippers, and three rows of razor-sharp teeth. Now imagine six evil sea lions, each the size of a house, joined at the tails like blades on a fan. Now imagine the tails merging into a sea serpent’s body. That’s Scylla.

The one on the left was Charybdis. Imagine a lamprey. Now imagine just the lamprey’s mouth, a circle bearing an endless spiral of teeth, elegantly designed to suck in anything unfortunate enough to meet its grasp. Now imagine that mouth being supported only by a bag made of blubber. Now imagine this thing being big enough to swallow Scylla whole if it wanted to. That’s Charybdis.

Charybdis’ mouth was pursed closed. Scylla’s heads were awake, but at rest. A warship with purple sails appeared next to Scylla. An identical ship with blue sails appeared next to Charybdis. A large buoy appeared behind each ship. “Your objective,” said Athena, “is to be the first to cross your opponent’s buoy. You may use your monster, which is enchanted to follow your commands, to impede your opponent in any way that you can. Each ship is equipped with mechanical oarsmen who will respond to your steering. You will hear the starting bell thirty seconds from right…NOW.”

At stage volume, I called out, “And they’re off! Dionysus’ and Poseidon’s clouds are speeding toward their ships. No jump starts today. They’ll lose time if they land in the water.”

“For those less familiar with warship technology, these vessels are called triremes, named for the three banks of oars used to steer them,” said Apollo. “There’s one man, or in this case one automaton, to an oar.”

“For those interested in the action, both contestants are on deck!” I said. “Dionysus has taken the wheel, and Poseidon is…dropping anchor?”

Of course. He had Charybdis. All he had to do was stay in place, wait for Beroe and Scylla to get inside range, let Charybdis swallow them both, and proceed to the goal unhindered. I hoped Beroe would have the sense to leave Scylla guarding her buoy.

Nope.

“Yes, Poseidon has anchored his ship at the starting point,” Apollo confirmed. “Dionysus is charging forward with Scylla by the bow. The unison of the mechanical oarsmen is spectacular. It looks like Dionysus is controlling their speed as well.” I felt Apollo’s hand remove mine from his knee. That was weird. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d moved my hand in the first place. I folded my hands in my lap and tried to focus on the race.

“They’re a third of the way between the buoys, and Poseidon is still anchored,” I said. “Apollo, can you give us some stats on the monsters? What’s Charybdis’ area of effect?” Okay, I was definitely not fingering his forearm on purpose or by accident. It had to be the thyrsus, though Apollo’s perplexed expression told me he had no idea. I dropped out of stage volume and whispered, “Give me back the thyrsus.”

“Area of effect? Once Dionysus passes the halfway point, he’ll be inside it,” Apollo announced. Then he whispered back, “Whatever you’re up to, don’t even think about it,” and tightened his grip on the thyrsus. I tried to take my hand back. It worked. Good. Either he’d snapped out of whatever reverie he was in, or the thyrsus’ effect was finally wearing off. “Of course,” he said, back at stage volume, “the rules didn’t say anything about having to sail in a straight line, but I’d be surprised if Dionysus is lucid enough to think of that.”

“Good thing you didn’t just tell him,” I said, also back at stage volume.

“There’s no way the contestants can hear us over the wind and waves,” said Apollo.

“So it would seem,” I said, “because Dionysus is still charging ahead in a straight line, and he’s about to hit the halfway point. Wait, he’s slowing down, but Scylla isn’t. In fact, it looks like Scylla’s going faster. Oh god, Charybdis!”

“What Thalia’s trying to say,” said Apollo, who so wasn’t any more composed than I was, “is that Charybdis is opening its mouth! Charybdis has sunk out of sight. Those ripples are about to turn into a massive, inescapable vortex. Poseidon is raising his anchor and Dionysus is dropping his, but Scylla is still advancing.”

“And here comes the vortex!” I was trying not to cheer since Charybdis was on Poseidon’s side, but it was just so freakin’ cool. “Poseidon’s ship is getting sucked in, and so is Scylla. The vortex is pulling on Dionysus’ ship, but the anchor seems to be holding. Oh my god, the vortex is pulling Scylla closer to Poseidon’s ship! Scylla’s caught him! Poseidon’s climbing the mast, but Scylla’s got control of the ship.”

“As much control as anyone could have in this vortex,” said Apollo. “Scylla’s legs have a firm grip on the ship. The heads are snapping at Poseidon, but he’s evading them.”

“Shredding the sails, though,” I said. “And now they’re out of sight. Charybdis’ mouth is closing again.” I felt my arm moving. I tried to keep it in my lap, but it felt like the strain would break it. I didn’t see the point in overexerting myself when Apollo could just not be an idiot, so I gave up. “Give me the thyrsus,” I whispered to Apollo again.

“Why?” he whispered back.

“I can’t tell you right now; just do it,” I hissed as my hand came to rest on his inner thigh.

“You know if one of us gets caught rigging the match-”

“It has nothing to do with the match, just let go of the damn thing,” I said as my hand crept further up his thigh.

“Um, you want to move your hand, maybe?” he said.

“Yes, that’s why I need you to give me the thyrsus, or at least let go of it.”

“What in Tartarus?”

“I’m not doing this,” I said. “You are. Let go of the damn thyrsus.”

He let go. My hand snapped back with so much force that I would’ve been knocked off my seat if the box were any bigger. We both turned our attention back to the match. “Dionysus is sailing past Charybdis at full speed,” I announced. “But can he make it before Charybdis opens her mouth again? She never just does it once.”

“Actually, it could be to his advantage if – It’s happening!” cried Apollo. “Charybdis is regurgitating her prey in a massive tidal wave! Dionysus is riding the wave toward the  buoy!”

“There’s the skeleton of Poseidon’s ship!” I pointed. “Scylla’s still hanging on and chomping away, and the wave is spitting broken oarsmen all over the place, but there’s just enough left that you can still call it a ship. And Poseidon’s straddling one of Scylla’s necks! Charybdis’ wave is thrusting him toward Dionysus’ buoy. That must’ve been his strategy all along.”

“But Dionysus is closer to Poseidon’s,” said Apollo. “It’s a question of whether he can pass the buoy before the vortex starts again.”

“He can’t,” I said. “There it goes! Dionysus is trying to drop anchor, but it’s too late! The vortex is sucking his ship straight into Charybdis’ mouth, and Poseidon’s clear of it this time.”

“Scylla’s still going at his ship, though,” said Apollo. “Will it still be a win if he swims past the buoy clinging to a plank of what was once his ship?” Hermes appeared in our box, dropped a piece of paper on the desk, and flew off.

“Athena says it will,” Apollo and I read the message together.

“Here comes the wave!” I said. “Dionysus’ ship has taken some damage, but the oars are still rowing. Which is good, because Charybdis spit him out way to the left of his buoy.”

“Scylla’s pulled Poseidon and what’s left of his ship underwater,” said Apollo. “The contestants’ chances of making it to the finish lines look equally bad.”

“And Charybdis is making one more vortex,” I said. “Apollo, do you think Poseidon’s commanding this one, or it’s just reflexive?”

“Charybdis’ vortexes and regurgitations happen in threes,” said Apollo. “Poseidon commanded the first one, I’m sure, but he’d know that from there out, the process is all reflex.”

“Well, the Fates must be looking out for Dionysus,” I said, “because the third regurgitation is shooting him straight toward the finish line!”

“And there’s Poseidon near his!” said Apollo. “He’s floating on one of the Scylla’s heads and steering himself with a plank of wood from the ship.”

“How long does he have before Scylla’s missing head grows back?” I asked.

“About half a second is my guess,” said Apollo.

“They’re both so close, the race could go either way at this point,” I said. My breath stopped as both of them advanced toward their painfully close goals. Closer…closer…closer…

The two buoys erupted in blue and purple fireworks at so very close to the same moment. But I could swear Poseidon was the first one to cross.

mask.stock

3.9 Fate Intervenes

Apollo pulled me tighter into the kiss. I felt his arm grip my waist as a piece of his laurel wreath snapped off in my fist. I’d been momentarily enchanted by Eros’ golden arrows once. This felt nothing like that enchantment. The closest comparison I could make was looking Eris in the eye and feeling everything around me and inside me turn into a swirling mass of chaos. But that was still so inadequate. Instead of the lost, floundering, helpless, absolute confusion in Eris’ vortex, everything in Apollo’s kiss felt so certain. So grounded. So right. We were at the center of the Golden Mean.

Neither of us said a word. I think we kept the moment going as long as we did because neither of us wanted to say anything about it. We both knew that, eventually, the moment would end, and we’d have to walk back to the same house that we shared with the same people, where, at some point in time, we’d have no choice but to talk and think and decide what in Tartarus was going on with us and what we wanted to do about it.

“Hey!”

Crap, why did I have to think about Eris?

“Is this where the party is?” Eris asked as she sauntered into the stable. “I just found out there was a party somewhere, and it looks like no one invited me to it. You guys wouldn’t not invite me, would you?”

I thought of all my family and friends in Dionysus’ forest. Beroe’s fate riding on this tournament. The horrific consequences that usually resulted from Eris not being invited to something everyone else was invited to.

“This absolutely is where the party is,” I said.

“We made you an invitation,” said Apollo, who evidently shared my thought process. “It must’ve gotten lost in the mail. Thalia, find her invitation.”

I snapped up a beautifully calligraphied mini-scroll. It read,

 

To the Lady Eris, Goddess of Chaos

The Honor of Your Presence is Requested

at

The Parnassus Museum

Tonight

RSVP: Thalia and Apollo

Hail Eris! Hail Discordia!

 

Eris took the scroll and scrutinized it. She threw it over her shoulder with a grin. “I like how you put my name twice,” she said. “I have got to remind Hermes to leave my messages under the door when I’m asleep. Hebe says I should just wake up at a reasonable hour like everyone else, but what does she know? Thinks she’s so smart just because she’s the oldest and she gets to hold Dad’s stupid cup. Anyone can hold a stupid cup. You know what? Let’s all hold cups.”

In the blink of an eye, Eris was holding an armful of goblets, all of them spilling over with wine. She somehow managed to toss several each to me and Apollo while still hanging onto a decent-sized hoard of her own. I mourned my dress and made a mental note to replicate it later.

Eris grabbed the cup at the top of her pile with her teeth, tilted her head back, and downed whatever of its contents didn’t spill down her face. She then deposited the cup quite neatly back on top of the jumble in her arms. “Look at us,” she beamed. “Drinking out of cups. Anyway, I woke up awhile ago, and Olympus was practically empty. I found Mom and New Dad in the pasture where Mom keeps her cows, and they looked kind of bored, so I thought I’d go play with them, and we were having so much fun, but then Mom told me there was a party somewhere that I’d probably like better. So I’m here. Oh, and she told me not to tell anyone about New Dad. And to stop calling him that.”

“I see,” I said.

“Me too!” said Eris. “Now you don’t,” she laughed.

It was an accurate statement.

“Eris,” said Apollo, “could we please have our sight back?”

“But you guys look so cute with your eyes all white like that,” she pouted. “And this way we can play Blind Man’s Bluff.”

“We’d have to put the cups down,” I said.

“You don’t know how to play, do you?” said Eris. “It’s really easy. I ask you questions, you answer them, and I keep you blind if I think you’re bluffing. Calliope: Are you dating my brother?”

“I’m not Calliope, and I don’t know if you mean Ares or one of your half-brothers,” I said.

“Of course I mean Ares,” said Eris. “He’s my only real brother. But you’re definitely Calliope. That’s a terrible bluff. Apollo: Are Artemis and Athena really going to let their daughter marry Dionysus?”

“Beroe is Aphrodite’s daughter,” said Apollo. “And Aphrodite might let her marry Dionysus.”

“Bluffing,” said Eris. “She looks just like Artemis.” She didn’t. “Calliope: Who was that really pretty boy at the party after the Pythian Games, and why does Poseidon want to marry him?”

“That was Beroe,” I said. “Aphrodite’s daughter. And I don’t know why anyone wants to marry anyone.”

“Bluffing,” said Eris. “I already know Beroe is Artemis and Athena’s daughter. Wait, Poseidon wants to marry her, too? Does everyone want to marry Beroe?”

“Pretty much,” I said.

“No one told me! I want to marry Beroe. He’s hot,” Eris said.

“I don’t think your mom would let you do that,” said Apollo.

“Well, I’ve got to marry someone!” said Eris.

“Not necessarily,” I said. “I’ve never been married, and I’m happy with that.”

“You don’t want to marry Beroe?” said Eris. “Are you sure? It’s the latest fad. Everyone’s talking about it. I wanted to marry Beroe before it was cool, but now it’s all mainstream, and I’m so over it. Freakin’ sellout. I think I want to marry that Necessarily person you were talking about. What’s he, the God of Neediness? I can work with that.”

“I’m sure,” I said.

“Hmm. Okay, I believe you.” With that, I got my sight back. “Apollo, do you want to marry Beroe?” Eris asked.

“No,” said Apollo. “She’s like a daughter to me.”

“I guess that makes sense. She is your sister’s daughter,” said Eris. Apollo blinked rapidly as his eyes regained their normal grey coloring. “This was fun, but now it’s boring, so I’m going to go. Keep the cups!” Then she disappeared.

“I’m scared to keep these cups and even more scared to get rid of them,” I said.

“Here, give them to me, and I’ll quarantine them in my supply room,” said Apollo.

“Laboratory,” I corrected him as I complied.

Apollo closed his eyes and concentrated. In a few seconds, the cups were gone.

“I guess we should go inside before anything else happens,” I said.

“First, one question,” said Apollo. “Please tell me who ‘New Dad’ is. I know you know. You have since the Pythian Games.”

“Ask Er- that person who was just here,” I shrugged.

“I don’t understand why you’d protect Hera,” said Apollo. “Sure, she’s always favored you, but you know that’s just luck. She’s half the reason Calliope can’t claim her own sons. And she’s done everything in her power to make life a waking nightmare for me and Artemis since we were children, as though we asked for her husband to rape our mother.”

“I don’t understand why you’d assume Hera’s the party in need of my protection,” I said.

Realization came, and with it, understanding. “Is it completely of his own free will?” he asked.

“From what I could see,” I said. I started back toward the Museum. Apollo followed.

“It’s an awfully convenient coincidence for them that the entire Olympian court, Zeus included, has their attention directed elsewhere,” said Apollo. He obviously didn’t think it was a coincidence at all. It hit me that he was right. Was that the plan all along? Was all of this Athena’s way of getting back at Hera for all the pain she’d caused Artemis? While I was satisfied that she wouldn’t sacrifice Beroe, there was no doubt that Ixion was fair game as much as Dia had been. When had Athena become so calloused toward the fate of mortals? In the past, she’d developed quite a reputation for sparing mortals from Zeus and Hera’s wrath. But exposing Hera as an adulterer would be the perfect way to avenge Artemis and her mother. It was incredible, and sometimes frightening, I thought, how love could change a person.

“That’s it,” I said. “I know what their gambit is.”

“Whose, exactly?” said Apollo as we reached the steps. “You think Zeus and Hera are playing a mind game?”

“No, I don’t think Zeus has any idea yet,” I said as I hurried through the throne room to the safety of the closed corridor that led to our wing. “Athena and Aphrodite. I think they’re working together. It’s not just about an affair. They need Hera to be in love. They think falling in love with another man is the only thing that’ll get her to leave Zeus.”

A wicked smile spread across Apollo’s face. “It’s perfect,” he exulted. “Hera will lose everything. She’ll be a complete outcast. She’ll finally get a taste of what she did to my mother and so many other innocent women.”

“I was thinking more ‘she’d completely turn against Zeus and either passively leave him vulnerable to an attack or actively take part in an uprising,’ but that could work, too,” I said.

“What uprising?” said Apollo.

“No idea. I don’t know anything about this political intrigue stuff. I just write comedy sketches. Goodnight; see you at the game tomorrow.”

I closed myself in my room before Apollo could ask me any more questions. I wanted to be alone with these thoughts. It all made sense now. This was why the Fates hadn’t made contact with me in so long. They didn’t need me anymore. Their best hitmen were on the case, working together. Athena, whom they’d given the strength and skill to challenge Zeus. Aphrodite, whose ability to influence the Fates’ plans had been common knowledge for ages. Beroe, the Daughter of the Furies, may have inherited that ability, too. This was all out of my hands. Pretty Good would triumph over Evil without my help. I had no supernatural obligation in this act. I could take my final bow and kick back in the wings while the rest of the cast wrapped things up.

I was free.

For the first time in four years, I went to sleep that night with a blissful certainty that my dreams would be merely dreams, and that I would wake up to a world safely in the hands of those who could handle it much better than I could.

 

mask.stock

 

“Oh, fffFates.”

“Believe us, we’re as pleased about this visit as you are,” said Clotho as she stood above me with her two sisters, all twice my height, their glowing white robes the only light source in the tower except for the starlight shining through a high, narrow window.

“It shouldn’t have been necessary at all,” said Lachesis. I jumped to my feet as she struck the ground next to me with her measuring rod.

“You don’t even know why you’re here, do you?” said Atropos, her shears glaring in the dim light.

“Let me guess,” I said. “Athena and Aphrodite are going to use Ixion for collateral damage after all. Hera will lose him, she’ll be consumed by grief, Zeus will completely break her will, thus strengthening himself in the eyes of the Pantheon and demoralizing any attempt at an uprising, so you need me to focus on Ixion and make sure things work out okay for him while Aphrodite and Athena take care of Hera’s fate. Is that about it?”

“Ixion, as safe as a snowflake in a nest of dragons, does need any ally he can get,” said Lachesis. “But no.”

“Try again,” said Clotho.

“I’ve already wished Beroe a happy ending,” I said. “That seems to be working out. She already beat Poseidon in one match, and Dionysus swore to her terms before you, so that’s taken care of. Wait, that’s it! It’s still a tragedy because she can’t turn off her glamour, he’ll be stuck in supernatural unrequited love, she’ll be stuck with a love she can’t requite, and it’ll be Aphrodite and Hephaestus all over again. I was the only one who could make Hephaestus give up Aphrodite, so I must be the only one who can override Beroe’s glamour and make Dionysus give her up.”

“Dionysus’ devotion to Beroe is in accordance to our will,” said Atropos. “You could not ‘override’ it if you tried.”

“You guys have already tried the reverse psychology thing on me,” I said. “What makes you think it’s going to work a second time?”

“What makes you think I won’t succumb to frustration and strangle you with this thread once and for all?” said Clotho.

“You so very nearly had the answer,” said Atropos. “Why must you Muses be so damned unselfish?”

“That’s not the first word I’d use to describe myself,” I said. “I don’t think that would be anyone’s first choice, actually.”

“In the years since discovering your power,” said Lachesis, “you have used them to bless your friend, his ex-wife, his son, your sister, her children, two goddesses with whom you were friendly but certainly not close before you brought them together, and last and least in both regard and effectiveness, a rival you hated to the point of initially wishing for his murder. And let us not forget that you discovered these powers in the first place when you used them to bless an inconsequential nymph whom you hadn’t known for more than a week.”

“So?” I said. “It’s what Muses do. We’re theater goddesses. Our powers exist for other people’s consumption. What’s a performer without an audience? That’s not unselfish. We feed on applause. On our audience’s laughter and tears. We give them our best because we get back what we give.”

“Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Eros still don’t know what you did for them,” said Atropos. “And you only told Calliope when she coaxed it out of you. Where is the applause in that?”

“Back to the point,” said Clotho, “as a theater goddess, you must at least understand what it is to be a diva. You must have regard for your own happiness if you are to give that great performance.”

“‘Diva’ might be going a little too far,” I said. “I’m an ordinary goddess with ordinary needs. I mean, could you go on stage knowing there were two dark pink flowers and one light pink flower in your hair when it was supposed to be one dark pink and two light pink flowers? Seriously? Could you?”

“We know you could not,” said Clotho. “Therefore this dilemma leaves one to wonder, why would you not simply use your own ability to take care of your own pink flower?”

Use my own ability…

“My own ability!” I cried. “You just said it! You’ve been saying it!”

“So we have,” said Atropos.

“No, you don’t get it,” I said. “The other times have all been tests. You’ve claimed you were trying to see whether or not I could challenge you or influence you or whatever. But I just now realized that, for this whole conversation, you’ve been taking for granted that I can. Just saying it like it’s a given. And clearly, whatever you’re wanting me to do right now, it’s something that can’t happen without me making it happen. Me. Not you. Me.”

“We said no such thing,” said Atropos. “We were only speaking of theories and hypotheses.”

“Whatever,” I said. “You wanted a diva? You’re getting a diva. I’m going to accept that both Poseidon’s and Dionysus’ obsessions with Beroe are necessary for now, because I’m sure Athena’s using them as critical factors, and I trust her judgment. But here’s what you’re going to do for me before I give you what you want: The moment Beroe is given her own hand, you make both Dionysus and Poseidon fall out of love with her. Make them see her the way they would if she wasn’t a love goddess, or a Child of the Furies, or whatever she is.”

“We shall see,” said Clotho.

“We certainly shall,” Bitches, I said. “And another thing. Normally I wouldn’t care all that much about preserving human life. They die so fast anyway. I don’t know why anyone bothers naming them. But Ixion set my man Eustychus up for life, so he’s kind of a special case for me. I want Ixion kept safe. Zeus doesn’t get to harm a hair on his head. Ixion gets a Get Out of Tartarus Free card. As long as Hera wants Ixion’s thread around, you just keep that wheel spinning. Got it?”

“You had to invoke her inner diva,” said Lachesis.

“See to your own fate, Muse,” said Atropos. “The rest is in our hands.”

Her shears closed. My eyes opened. It was a bright new dawn.

 

mask.stock

 

I managed to avoid Apollo at breakfast thanks to a summons from Athena. I joined her at Artemis’ camp by the riverside along with Beroe, Aphrodite, Aglaea, and Euphrosyne. Beroe was in her own form and back in her sturdy, weathered hunter’s chiton and short, haphazard hair.

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“Moral support,” said Athena.

“No, I mean, why are we here?” I said. “What’s the purpose of this meeting?”

“Aphrodite?” Athena gave the floor. It seemed Aphrodite had been the one to summon everyone else, Athena included.

“I want Beroe out of the tournament,” said Aphrodite. “This afternoon, Dionysus goes on.”

“But I won,” said Beroe.

“Only because Poseidon got that penalty,” said Aphrodite.

“He got that penalty for cheating, which is how he got ahead of me in the first place, so, yeah, I won,” said Beroe.

“And now we know Poseidon’s willing to cheat,” said Aphrodite.

“Exhibit A: Rhoda exists,” said Athena.

“Shut up,” said Aphrodite. “The point is, maybe next time he won’t do something as benign as shooting the quiver off Beroe’s back.”

“I love how everyone’s so concerned about my physical safety, but you were totally fine with throwing me in a cage match that’d give me flashbacks to my father’s murder,” said Beroe.

“You channeled your fear into action,” said Athena. “And you did outperform Poseidon.”

“That round was custom-made for Beroe’s strengths,” said Aphrodite. “The next round is going to be in the ocean. It’ll be even easier for Poseidon to kill her in his own realm.”

“I’m fine in the water,” said Beroe. “Good grief, you’re the Seafoam Goddess. With your blood, I probably stand a way better chance than Dionysus.”

“I don’t know; Eros sucks at swimming,” I said.

“That’s just because the wings weigh him down when they’re wet,” said Euphrosyne.

“I think Beroe’s okay for the water round,” said Aglaea. “Beroe, I don’t want to breach confidentiality, but do you mind if I reassure your mom here?”

“Good luck,” said Beroe.

“Beroe does have your aquatic traits,” said Aglaea. “Physically, she’s as well-suited for the ocean as for the land or the sky.”

“Sky?” said Euphrosyne.

“She’s Selene’s great-granddaughter,” said Athena.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Euphrosyne. “Maybe you should set the round after this one in the stars. Poseidon’s the farthest thing from a celestial god. Or would that be Hades?”

“I thought of it,” said Athena, “but it wouldn’t make sense. Dionysus isn’t a celestial god, either.”

“What if I fought in the tournament today?” said Aphrodite. “It wouldn’t be the first time Dionysus and I shifted as each other.”

“Mom, remember all those talks we’ve had about things I don’t need to know?” said Beroe. “So many talks?”

“I don’t know what’s so disturbing about that,” said Aphrodite. “Shapeshifting is one of the tamer things he’s into. One time he and I and Pan-”

“I have considered that option,” Athena cut her off. “You fighting the water round, I mean. But besides the fact that you’re the definition of ‘a lover, not a fighter,’ Beroe has to win the tournament herself if she’s going to win her own hand in marriage at the end.”

“I’m her mother,” said Aphrodite. “Her hand is already mine to give. I can still choose to give it to her after the tournament.”

“You know Zeus won’t honor it,” said Athena. “If you arbitrarily declare Beroe to no longer be under your guardianship, Zeus can claim she’s under his. If she wins it the tournament, though, he has to honor that. The Fates will see to it.”

“I can imagine how hard this must be for you to watch,” said Aglaea, “but I really do think Beroe can handle it. She’s a war machine. Trust me, I’m the one watching her vitals. I’d think she was Ares’ daughter if she didn’t look so much like Adonis.”

“Oh, with this one I’m sure,” Aphrodite said with her usual flippancy. It used to infuriate me that she wasn’t sure about the others and didn’t care, but the days when she was cheating on my friend were becoming so distant that, anymore, they hardly seemed like they’d really happened. Hephaestus with Aglaea. Aphrodite with Adonis and whoever else. Eros, Euphrosyne, and Beroe; this trio of half-, step-, and non-siblings. It felt like it had always been this way. Like it was always supposed to be this way. So the ease of Aphrodite’s assertion just made me laugh.

“So are we all satisfied that I’m fighting Poseidon myself this afternoon like we planned?” said Beroe.

“No,” said Aphrodite. “But if you’re satisfied, I won’t stop you.”

“Great. I’m going to get in some swimming practice, then,” said Beroe. She ran to the riverbank, took a flying leap, landed several yards into the river, and was out of sight. Aglaea and Euphrosyne teleported home together. I did the same.

Then, given my observation that Aphrodite and Athena didn’t seem in any hurry to leave, I put on my Helmet of Darkness and teleported right back.

“Her human blood isn’t her only handicap,” Aphrodite was quietly shouting at Athena. “Maintaining a false shape takes a certain amount of energy.”

“Does it?” Athena replied at an equal volume but with a cool, unperturbed demeanor. “You’d think as Goddess of Battle Strategy, I would’ve taken that into my calculations. Especially as someone who’s personally fought Poseidon before. You were there yesterday. Beroe won.”

“And you weren’t there when her father died,” said Aphrodite. “Can you honestly say that, if you had Artemis’ baby and that baby could be killed, you’d risk her life in an arena just to distract the Pantheon?”

“I can’t give you an accurate answer to that question since I can’t have anyone’s baby,” said Athena.

“Well, I’m sure technically you could if you-”

“I don’t have a womb,” said Athena. “Zeus decided it would be an unnecessary distraction from both wisdom and war, so he left it out when he created me. Now, about the rest of the plan?”

“I’m so sorry,” said Aphrodite, overcome with genuine sympathy. “I can’t read you like the others, so I had no idea. No wonder you took those rumors about Callisto so hard.”

“It’s not a big deal,” said Athena. “Pregnancy isn’t something I ever particularly wanted anyway. How are things coming along with You-know-who?”

“But you were never even given a choice,” said Aphrodite. “Who knows what you might have wanted under different circumstances? Do you have everything else? Can you still orgasm?”

“This is absolutely none of your business, but in the interest of shutting you up, everything else is there and is in perfect working order,” said Athena.

“I’m the Goddess of Sex. It absolutely is my business,” said Aphrodite.

“So are Whatstheirnames, the people whom I actually want to discuss with you,” said Athena. “Progress report?”

“Okay, something I need you to understand here,” said Aphrodite. “She’s the Goddess of Marriage. Getting her to cheat on her husband is like, well, getting me to be celibate. Or at least monogamous.”

“That did happen once,” said Athena.

“It was a momentary impulse,” said Aphrodite. “If Adonis had lived, that impulse never would’ve lasted long-term. I’d like to think we’d have stayed happily in love with each other, and happily open to any other loves we could mutually agree on.”

“You’re saying the goddess in question has yet to experience that momentary impulse?” said Athena.

“Oh, she’s experiencing it,” Aphrodite laughed. “She just won’t give in to it. That’s our problem.”

“No, that’s your problem,” said Athena. “You’re the Goddess of Sex, remember?”

“This should be so much easier than it is,” said Aphrodite. “You have no idea what it’s like to be the goddess of a dying religion. No one cares about good old-fashioned values like sex and romance and hedonism anymore. You’re so lucky. Everybody loves wisdom.”

“I get down on my knees and thank the Fates every day,” said Athena. “Maybe the problem is that you’re thinking like you. Try to think like her. And keep in mind that the sooner she chooses him, the sooner we can bring our distraction to an end and Beroe will be out of danger.”

“Hey, no one wants Her Majesty to get laid more than I do,” said Aphrodite.

“That’s the problem,” said Athena. “You need to make her want it more.”

Athena teleported away. Aphrodite randomly skipped a stone across the river, then followed. But before I left, too, I noticed some movement in the water. Beroe came ashore and snapped herself dry.

She took off running away from the river. I decided to follow.

 

mask.stock

 

It was a good thing I could float, because I would’ve run out of energy in about fifteen minutes if I’d had to keep pace with Beroe on foot. She ran through the forest until she came to Persephone’s Doom, the meadow where Persephone had staged her “abduction” with Hades, and where Adonis had met his own doom. Gleaming white lilies still bloomed in the spot where rivers of Adonis’ blood had watered them. The meadow’s beauty and peace were a cruel irony.

Beroe picked a bouquet of lilies. Then she was out of sight. I made a guess about her destination and teleported to Endymion’s Cave.

I hadn’t been there since we’d rescued Endymion and replaced his comatose body with Adonis’ corpse. Everything was nearly the same. The sheer cliff. The ledge, just outside the cave’s mouth, that was comfortable for one visitor but precarious for more. The cave itself, where Adonis’ body lay perfectly preserved on a slab of rock, surrounded by moonflowers, lit by an eternal beam of moonlight that came from nowhere. The only change was the heaps of lilies around the base of the slab.

Beroe entered the cave and laid her bouquet with the rest. I put my hand toward the mouth of the cave to make sure Aphrodite’s barrier was still there. It was. Whether it recognized Aphrodite’s, Endymion’s, or maybe even Selene’s blood in Beroe, she was immune to the barrier just as I’d guessed.

“Hey, Dad,” she said. “It’s only been a couple weeks since I was here, but a lot sure has happened. I’m getting married. Remember Dionysus? Yeah, you remember him,” she laughed. “Of course, I’m not marrying him, marrying him. It’d be way too weird since you and Mom both hit that. Can you imagine what Apollo would say if I told him about you and Dionysus? Don’t worry, that one stays with you.” She sighed. “You were so much younger than me.

“I wish you were here and were the age you should be now,” she said. “Old enough to be my dad. I outgrew your memories a long time ago. But still, I feel like you’re the only one who’d really understand me right now. See, I’ve always been really happy with my body. It’s strong and capable. What else do you need, right? And I’ve always been pretty indifferent about it being female. It doesn’t bother me, but I’m not particularly attached to it, either. But then, lately, I’ve been shapeshifting as a man, like, all over, and I feel the same about that body. I like it because it’s strong and capable; I’m okay with it being male, but I’m not like, ‘Oh, this feels so much more right than being female did.’ I guess I was hoping it would? I always hoped those feelings were just your memories. But I think they’re my own feelings, too. And, in a way, they’re kind of the opposite of yours. Your soul was both male and female. I don’t think mine is either one. And you needed a harem of lovers, but I don’t even want one. Yet, anyway. I’ve got plenty of time.

“Well, maybe,” she said. “And in case I don’t, I just wanted to say all of this out loud to someone, and I know you’d get it if you could actually hear me.

“There’s some other stuff I want to say, too,” Beroe went on, “but I don’t trust anyone enough, so I’m saying it to you. Things from my memories. Like how cruel Zeus really is to Hera. He attacks her with the lightning bolts. I think he really injures her, and that’s why she wears those robes all the time, to hide the damage.”

At this, I remembered Artemis’ story about her vow. The Lady of the White Arms. Artemis had seen Hera’s arms when Hera raised Artemis’ bow over her head. I realized I had never seen Hera’s arms and shoulders uncovered except toward the end of their enchanted truce four years ago. The truce had gone on for a few months. Time enough for cuts and bruises to fade.

“Apollo told you his son died once,” Beroe continued her confessional, “but he didn’t tell you why. It was because Asclepius created a cure for death. I know what the cure is. I’d use it to bring you back right now, except I don’t know if he kept any of it, and I don’t know where to find any Gorgons.

“Well, I guess that’s it. I was going to tell you Calliope’s son’s secret, but I’m going to save that for after the tournament. Give the Fates a little incentive to keep me alive.”

mask.stock

3.8 I’ll Make A Man Out Of You

The tournament was about to begin. The “arena” was a wide swath of uninhabited sea coast in wine country. There were no walls, markers, or formal structures around. The spectators were seated on floating bleachers whose design was very much in keeping with Olympus’ cloud motif. There were four thrones in the front row at the back of a large, circular dais. Zeus sat in one of the middle seats with Athena at his right hand. That was interesting. It should have been Hera. Seats for Aphrodite and Beroe were reserved at his left.

The rest of the Twelve, minus Dionysus, of course, were in the row behind them. Ares and Hephaestus bookended the row with Hermes, Demeter, Hestia, Artemis, and Apollo between them. Yes, Hestia was there. I couldn’t think of the last time she’d attended an offsite event. Now that I thought of it, had she ever left Olympus for anything? I couldn’t even remember any stories about her visiting her own temples in person.

My sisters were seated in the third row in the usual order. All the rows behind that one were for the rest of the assorted miscellany of gods and goddesses, including Eros and Psyche.

I hoped I could join the spectators soon. In the meantime, I was on the ground in the lavish tent that was Beroe’s dressing room at her special mandate request. Aglaea and Euphrosyne were there, too.  So were Aphrodite and, unbeknownst to anyone outside of the group, Dionysus. I still didn’t know who else was or wasn’t in on the secret. I did know that the dressing room currently held essential personnel only: the mom, the medic, the cheerleader, and the coach.

“Okay, both of you shift now,” I told Beroe and Dionysus. Beroe’s transformation was flawless. Her height was the only thing that hadn’t changed. Her legs were smooth, her hair was long and dark, her arms and shoulders were less muscular and more lithe, and her face was, well, Dionysus’. She wore makeup on it for once. Not drag makeup; more like a wilder version of Apollo’s guyliner look.

Dionysus’ transformation was somewhat inexact. The face and body were Beroe’s, but he’d grown out her hair in golden waves down to the waist, put her in a dress and makeup, and from what I could see, given her a full body wax. And there was one more slight alteration.

“Take those knockers down about five cup sizes or I’ll chop them off myself,” said Beroe, in Dionysus’ voice but with her own inflections.

“What’s the fun of being a woman if my chest is practically the same as before?” said Dionysus, in Beroe’s voice but with his own inflections.

“He has a point,” said Aphrodite.

“Beroe’s right,” I said, forcing myself not to encourage him with laughter since Euphrosyne had that covered. “That’s not going to fool anyone. Lose the boobage.”

Dionysus reluctantly obeyed. He cast a mournful look at his deflated rack. “There, there,” he said as he raised a comforting hand to his bosom. Beroe struck it down.

“If you touch yourself as me, I will throw this match on purpose,” she warned.

“That’s a little drastic,” I said. Then I told Dionysus, “If you touch yourself as her, I’ll tell Artemis and Apollo.”

“You know, that’s what I almost named them?” said Dionysus. “But I decided on Ares and Eris.” Call them what he would, he did keep his hands away from the twins.

“Let me try something with your hair,” I said.

“No!” Aphrodite cried. “It’s perfect!”

“It’s completely out of character,” I said. “No one is going to think Beroe did that to herself.”

“Beroe’s own hairstyle is a delight to look at,” said Dionysus, “but I couldn’t endure the boredom of wearing it.”

“Suck it up,” said Beroe. “And that dress isn’t me, either.”

“You’re a princess, and two princes are fighting for your hand in marriage!” said Aphrodite. “It’s supposed to be romantic.”

“Forget the princess thing, okay?” I said. “I’m the acting coach, and I say dressing Beroe up like Helen of Whatchacallit is way out of character. But this is a formal occasion, so it’s also going to look suspicious if we don’t at least try for princely.” I snapped up a simple silver dress chiton from Artemis’ wardrobe and held it by the shoulders. “Try this,” I said to Dionysus.

“I suppose that’ll do,” he said. He shifted his dress to match the chiton. I tossed the original aside and sent it back where it came from.

“Now let me try something for the hair,” I said.

“Nothing too froofy,” said Beroe.

“At least let me look pretty,” said Dionysus.

“Give me a second,” I said. “I have a style in mind that I think will be just right.” I snapped my fingers.

“Wow,” said Aglaea.

“That’s…it’s…I don’t know what to say,” Aphrodite swallowed a tear. “I noticed it before, of course, but never this much.”

“I don’t get it,” said Euphrosyne. “What are we seeing?”

Beroe extended a hand toward Dionysus. She gently brushed a short golden wave off his cheekbone. Her cheekbone. Reverting to her own voice, she said, “You wouldn’t remember. I look just like my dad.”

“Okay, don’t you guys dare kiss right now, because that’d be wayyyy too weird,” I said. “And Beroe, watch your voice. If that happens during the tournament, you’re dead. Literally. Now,  if everyone’s happy with Dionysus-as-Beroe with Artemis’ chiton and Adonis’ hair, let’s go over Beroe-as-Dionysus’ fighting technique.”

“Sounds good,” Beroe said back in Dionysus’ voice, facing me and standing at attention. “Where are my props?”

“The thyrsus is no mere prop,” Dionysus protested as he produced said object. It was a long staff made from a stalk of giant fennel, wrapped with ivy and grape leaves and topped with a glorious pinecone. “It’s a symbol. A relic. A banner of hedonism, debauchery, and fertility.”

“It’s a prop,” Beroe said as she grabbed it from him. “What do I do with it? It seems like it’d break easy.”

“Well, if you’d give it back for a moment,” Dionysus said. He retrieved the thyrsus from Beroe. He held it upright and slightly pointed the tip toward her. Vines shot out from around the staff, surrounded Beroe, bound her arms to her side, and pulled her right next to Dionysus.

“Release,” she said. He obeyed. She grabbed the thyrsus from him again.

“Show me how you’re going to stand when you float into the arena,” I said.

Beroe stood tall, stark, with feet spread wide, head held high, and thyrsus firmly planted in the ground beside her. She looked every inch the proud, noble warrior that she was.

“No one’s going to buy that,” I said. “Remember, you’re impersonating Dionysus. I’ve shown you how to do impressions.”

“And I’ve told you I’m not a performer,” said Beroe. “I hate attention and I hate crowds.”

“Listen. I’m not a psychology goddess, but I am a Muse,” I said. “I know when someone has the heart of a performer. You don’t think you do because you identify with Artemis way more than Apollo, and for the most part, that’s pretty accurate.”

“Yeah, you’re not a psychology goddess,” Beroe cut me off, “so can we skip the therapy session?”

“I’m not saying this as a therapist,” I said. “I’m appealing to a much higher, grander, more ancient hierarchy. I am speaking to you as your director. And I’m telling you that this isn’t the same as meeting a roomful of strangers as yourself, as Beroe, and feeling them judging you and scrutinizing you and waiting for you to say the wrong thing while you’re at their mercy. It’s not the crowd itself that you hate. It’s the loss of control. But when you take that stage and step into that character, you are taking control of the audience. That’s why we describe an incredible performance as ‘captivating.’ You are taking the audience captive. You own them. You rule them, and they are your adoring subjects. They’re not going to see the real Beroe. She’ll be safely hidden behind a character who will make the audience forget she exists, because you will be giving the performance of a lifetime. As a theater goddess, I know that performance is inside of  you, waiting to come out, and when you take the stage, you’ll know it, too.”

“Then I guess I don’t need to rehearse,” said Beroe.

I scowled. “Just give me one twirl of the thyrsus.”

Beroe gave me one very sarcastic rotation.

“Good enough,” I said. “Apollo’s summoning me to my seat, so we’d better get this show on the road.”

“You’d better get seated with your brother and Psyche,” Aglaea said to Euphrosyne. “I’ll just be a summons away in the medic tent. I have a viewing basin to keep an eye on things.” She placed an amulet around Beroe’s neck. “This will send your vital signs to me,” she said. “I’ll know if you’re in mortal danger. DO NOT lose it.”

Euphrosyne nodded in assent. “You’ll be great,” she said to Beroe. She and Aglaea disappeared together.

Aphrodite hugged Beroe-as-Dionysus tightly, then took Dionysus-as-Beroe’s hand. “Go,” she said to me. “We’ll see you.”

I teleported to my row. Before taking my seat, I tapped Apollo on the shoulder. “Here,” I said.

“What took so long?” he asked. “Beroe not cooperating with hair and makeup?”

“She was her usual agreeable self,” I said, “but I managed. Do us all a favor and try not to cry.”

“Your work is that bad?” he laughed.

I patted his laurel-wreathed head. “What have I told you about trying to be the funny one?” I said.

“As the God of the Performing Arts, I am considered moderately entertaining,” Apollo reminded me. “That’s why I got roped into announcing this debacle. I’m the only one who’s both an athlete and a theater god.”

This was news to me. “When did this happen?” I asked.

“This morning at breakfast,” he said. “You’d have known about it if you’d been on Parnassus like you were supposed to.”

“Meh, I had stuff to do, places to be,” I said.

“Do I want to know what you’re up to?” he asked.

“Strangely enough, you usually do,” I said. “But this time it’s pretty boring. I wanted to see how Amphitrite was settling in on Olympus. With everything going on, I figured she could use a friend.”

“That was very thoughtful of you,” said Apollo.

“Wasn’t it, though?”

“Now I know you’re up to something.”

“So’s your face.”

Apollo laughed. “You’d better get to your seat,” he said. “Aphrodite just got here.”

I laughed, too. “Okay. Good luck with your announcing gig.”

Aphrodite had indeed arrived on the dais. She remained standing. Zeus and Athena rose to meet her in unison. The crowd eased into silence as the three of them walked to the end of the dais together and turned to face the rest of us.

Zeus spoke. “This day, two gods battle for the hand of a fair maiden, and for her dowry, a seat among the Twelve Olympians. I present to you the first of these gods, Poseidon, Earthshaker, King of the Ocean Realm, God of Horses.”

There was a flash of blue smoke about a field’s length in front of us to stage left. A cloudy platform floated out of the smoke. On that platform was a giant conch shell turned chariot, “drawn” by a team of four immense war horses the color of the sea in a storm. In that chariot was Poseidon. He was girded with armor about the loins, and had only an abalone shield to protect his broad, bare torso. His blue hair fanned out in the wind like a banner, and his trident glared in the late afternoon sun.

“His rival,” said Zeus, “Dionysus, son of my beloved Semele who was slain by jealous Hera, the son delivered from death and mortality by my love, hidden safely in my own loins until he had grown to full infancy, hidden by me among his mother’s people until he had grown to manhood and I could welcome him to my court to take his rightful place as a Son of Zeus!” Hm. Seemed like that intro was missing something. Like maybe stuff that was actually about Dionysus and not about his father? But I didn’t give much thought to that. I held my breath until a flash of purple smoke heralded “Dionysus'” cloud at stage right.

The smoke faded. Beroe-as-Dionysus knelt on the platform with a leopard cape held over her head with her right arm, which also held the thyrsus. In one dramatic gesture, she threw back the cape, leapt to her feet, and sent the thyrsus high in the air. She caught it with a triumphant hand held high above her head. The ends burst into purple, red, and green flames. She sent it spinning in a circle before her, creating a wreath of flames. She twirled around, leaped backwards, did an aerial somersault through the wreath as her cloud passed under it, landed on the cloud on the other side, caught the thyrsus, and put out the flames as she swept it across her body and spun around to face her screaming audience in one fluid move. She knelt on one knee and spread her arms, fanning her cape out like wings. She graced the audience with slight nods and coy, cocky smiles that were all Adonis even though they came from Dionysus’ face. I laughed in triumph as she directed one particularly mocking smile straight at me. I could swear I heard Apollo mutter “Spotlight whore” under his breath as he scowled unflinchingly at the flawless doppelganger. I laughed even more.

Aphrodite proclaimed to the crowd, “And now, may I present to you the reason we’re all gathered here today: m-”

“Her daughter, Beroe,” Zeus cut her off, “the prize for which these adversaries will compete!”

A burst of white smoke midway between the other two clouds dissipated and revealed a third. Dionysus-as-Beroe stood on this one. His stance was modest and understated, but with a certain entitled confidence, and an aura that was at once both distinctly male and distinctly female, something that could be said of his own aura, yet somehow in a completely opposite way. In short, Dionysus was showing the audience the real Beroe far better than Beroe could’ve comfortably shown us herself. Maybe he’d observed and understood her on a deeper level than I’d given him credit for.

I glanced down at Apollo to see if my handiwork had brought him to tears like it had Aphrodite. That was how I first noticed a crucial flaw in our ruse. Something I couldn’t believe Athena hadn’t taken into consideration. Apollo wasn’t even looking at Dionysus-as-Beroe. No one was. Well, except Hestia and Artemis. Everyone’s eyes were still on the real Beroe. It wasn’t just her acrobatic skills that had enthralled them. It was that goddessdamn glamour obsession thing she’d inherited from both of her parents. Which wouldn’t even be a problem if it were only the audience. But even Poseidon couldn’t take his jealous, menacing, sea-green eyes off his opponent.

Dionysus-as-Beroe’s cloud reached the dais. He took Aphrodite’s hand and stepped onto the dais with her. Poseidon’s and Beroe-as-Dionysus’ clouds came closer.

Aphrodite spoke. “Do you come this day to fight for Beroe’s hand in marriage?” she asked the two contenders. From my end seat, I could see Dionysus bat an eye at the real Beroe. She ignored him. So did Poseidon, who was still scowling at her.

“We do,” the two contenders answered together.

“Do you swear before the Fates that you will accept the outcome of this tournament as determined by the three judges – myself, Athena, and Zeus? That, if you are defeated, you will concede Beroe’s hand to the victor?”

“We do,” they both swore.

“Then let us begin,” said Zeus. “If my daughter Athena, Goddess of Battle Strategy, will do the honor.”

“For the first round,” said Athena, “we’ve prepared an archery tournament.”

She waved her hand. On the ground below us, a herd of wild boars appeared. Rather hostile wild boars. There had to be around a hundred of them. I switched to spectator vision. The boars were over six feet at the shoulder, like the form Ares had taken when he’d killed Adonis. Was this an obstacle? Would they have to dodge the boars while they shot their targets? Judging by the look Beroe flashed Athena, I deduced she’d had no prior knowledge of this.

“Your platforms will take you to the arena below,” said Athena. “You will not begin shooting until your feet touch the ground. Once you’re on the ground, an invisible shield will keep both you and your targets contained for exactly one hour. Whichever one of you fells the most targets in that time wins the contest.”

Ohhh. I couldn’t help feeling bad about the poor innocent hulking killer boars. What did they ever do to deserve being slaughtered for entertainment? And how was Artemis okay with this? She was the Keeper of Wild Beasts. Sure, she and her girls enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, but they did it for food and self-defense.

Athena waved her hand and produced two bows and two quivers. One set was sea blue, and the other was grape reddish-purple. “These will be your only weapons,” she said. “The quivers are charmed to refill if you run out of arrows. You will now trade in all weapons you hold for these bows and quivers.”

Beroe and Poseidon respectively released their thyrsus and trident. Athena floated the weapons to her feet. “All weapons you hold,” Athena repeated. Poseidon gave up his shield. “All weapons you hold,” Athena repeated again. There was nothing. “All weapons currently on your person,” Athena said. Poseidon brought two knives out from under the skirt of his armor. He spun them forward. They landed in the ground on either side of Athena. Athena was not impressed. “All. Weapons,” she said again, quite strongly implying that this had better be the last time she had to say that. Poseidon released a garter dagger. Athena must have been satisfied, because she sent a bow and quiver floating toward each contestant.

“Special thanks to Artemis for providing the weapons, Pan for creating the targets, and Apollo for announcing,” said Athena. Ah, Pan. I understood now. The boars were only illusions. They had solid shape, but they couldn’t think or feel. It would be like shooting moving blocks of wood, only with way better visual effects.

“Now,” said Athena, “let the hunt begin.”

Both contestants leapt feet first the second their platforms started moving. Totally saw that one coming.

Which meant Athena probably had, too. But it seemed Apollo hadn’t. He hastily teleported to a floating announcer’s box halfway between our seats and the ground. “And the game has begun with a race to the arena!” he said in an amplified voice. “Dionysus has the clear advantage in aerodynamics, or at least he would if it weren’t for the wind resistance from that ridiculous ca-” Apollo paused his narrative to remove the ridiculous cape that had flown in his face when Beroe threw it off. “Dionysus has taken the lead, and he’s taken hold of a handful of arrows. His feet are on the ground! And there go five targets to Dionysus! Yes, five shot at once!

“Poseidon’s on the ground now,” said Apollo, which was unnecessary since we could see the shockwave from the landing. “Ten targets have fallen from the force of the landing, but that probably doesn’t- yes, Hermes has just brought word from Athena that all targets must be felled with an arrow to count toward a contestant’s score. And four of those targets have Dionysus’ arrows in them now. The other six are getting back on their feet just in time for Poseidon to fit an arrow to his bow. He’ll have to use rapid fire if he wants to catch Dionysus’ lead.

“Clean shot, target down. Oh, wait! The arrow has gone though the target and penetrated anoth- three- fo- Poseidon has taken down ten targets with one arrow! The arrow was only stopped by Athena’s invisible shield. But Dionysus hasn’t been idling. The score is now 14 – 10, Dionysus. No, make that 15-14, Poseidon. 17-15, Dionysus. 20 – 19, Dionysus. This is incredible. The way Dionysus is going after these boars, you’d think he’d had some personal vendetta against them. Could this be a pathetic attempt to impress a woman whose father was killed by a wild boar? Do you know what really impresses women? Integrity. Fidelity. Temperance. Not having a harem full of Maenads and satyrs.

“Audience feedback indicates you’d like me to skip the color commentary. But I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, I do not envy Aphrodite. Neither of these men are the type you want to bring home to your mother or father figure.”

It was as clear to me as to the rest of the crowd that Apollo was too emotionally invested to handle this gig. Without help from a more competent performer, anyway. I teleported to the announcer’s box and jerked him out of the way with my shepherd’s crook.

“For those of you interested in the actual tournament,” I announced, “the targets are thinning out. The herd looks about half the size as it was at the beginning.”

“It is exactly half the size,” said Apollo, “which anyone with a functioning attention span and basic powers of concentration would know. The score is 27 – 23, Dionysus.”

“You’re all probably just watching the action because keeping score is the announcer’s job,” I said. “And also the judges’. Speaking of action, the targets are really starting to scatter. I don’t think we’ll see any more pentakills today. Especially not from Poseidon. Dude, keep your eyes on your targets, not your opponent.”

“As much as it pains me to admit,” said Apollo, “it’s hard to keep one’s eyes off Dionysus with the moves he’s bringing today. He’s just fit five arrows to his bow, and he doesn’t even appear to be aiming at any particular target. He’s- Holy Fates, I know where this is going.”

We let Beroe’s actions speak for themselves as her five arrows fanned out, hit the domed invisible shield at an angle, and ricocheted back to fell five scattered targets.

“PENTAKILL!” we shouted together.

“That brings Dionysus’s score to 40, with Poseidon trailing behind at 35,” said Apollo. “Only 25 – make that 24, Poseidon has 36 now – remain standing. 41, Dionysus. Poseidon takes aim- I’d like to take this moment to remind the contestants that they will be disqualified if they shoot one anoth- Foul! That’s a foul!”

“Maybe, maybe not,” I said, holding Apollo back. “Poseidon has shot clean through Dionysus’ quiver strap and sent his arrows flying, but there’s not a mark on Dionysus.”

“Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t shot,” said Apollo. “He’s a fast healer, as any of his Maenads and satyrs can attest. Rumor has it that he sometimes commands them to rip him to shreds and regenerates within the hour. It’ll be up to the judges to determine-”

Apollo was interrupted by Hermes’ sudden appearance in the announcer’s booth. Hermes whispered something to Apollo and hastily returned to the bleachers. Apollo facepalmed. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said, “I’ve just received a message from the judges saying they’ve given Poseidon a three-point penalty, and one from Beroe claiming that the aforesaid rumors are one hundred percent true. I, for one, am torn between wanting to know how she acquired that knowledge and feeling that I can happily live the rest of my life without knowing.”

“I would like to take this moment,” I said, “to remind ‘Beroe’ that her secrets are her own, and that discretion is the better part of survival. For those who care about the actual game; penalty aside, Poseidon has gained some ground with his distraction. Dionysus still hasn’t recovered the quiver.” I couldn’t see it, otherwise I would’ve been tempted to accidentally broadcast its location.

“There were no loose arrows to scatter by the time the quiver was lost,” said Apollo. “And he can’t take arrows from his fallen targets. That’ll affect the final count. Poseidon could’ve won this match already if he weren’t constantly looking over his shoulder at his opponent’s progress, or lack thereof.”

“But Dionysus would do well to look over his shoulder right about now,” I said urgently. “One of the boars is pawing the ground and looks ready to- he’s charging! Dionysus has turned around and seen the boar, but he appears to have forgotten that he can get out of the way!

“Maybe he knows he’s going to lose, and he thinks getting gored would be a dramatic finish,” Apollo said bitterly. “Or some kind of sick irony.”

“Those of us who are making use of our Spectator Vision powers can see that he’s frozen in panic,” I said.

“MOVE!!!” Aphrodite’s amplified scream rained down from the stands just as the boar was almost upon his target. I saw something snap in Beroe’s eyes at the sound of her mother’s voice. At the last possible moment, she leaped ten feet in the air, did a backwards flip, and landed straddling the charging boar.

“And the crowd goes wild!” I yelled.

“Thank you for that very necessary statement of the obvi- Look, look, he’s steering the boar! He’s spotted the quiver, and he’s steering the boar toward it! Poseidon’s been distracted from another boar closing in on him. Dionysus charges toward the quiver. He’s hanging onto tufts of hair at the boar’s shoulder. He vaults off. He sticks the landing, grabs the quiver, pulls an arrow from it, and fells the boar he was just riding! He’s back in the game!”

“He’s standing on top of the fallen boar now, raining arrows all over the arena,” I said. “And…it’s over! There are no standing targets; I repeat, there are no standing targets!”

“Poseidon has 51 kills to Dionysus’ 49, but the three-point penalty makes it 49 – 48 Dionysus!” Apollo declared. “Let this be a lesson to us all that cheating may bring temporary gain, but ultimately-”

“Ultimately Poseidon got PWND!” I cheered with a double fist pump. “Homeboy for the win! O-LYMP-US! O-LYMP-US! O-LYMP-US!”

“Of course, we have to wait for our judges to deliver the final verdict,” said Apollo. “I see the three of them comparing notes. Beroe looks rather pleased with the conversation. Almost smug, one might say. One would certainly hope she’s not making poor decisions about her future for the sake of rebelling against her parents or any parental figures in her life.”

“One would also hope one wouldn’t have egomaniacal delusions about being a parent figure in anyone’s life,” I said. “The judges appear to have reached a verdict. Let’s hear what they have to say.”

“Round one goes to-” said Athena.

“Dionysus, Son of Zeus!” Zeus proclaimed. “The tournament is adjourned for today.  You’re all invited back here tomorrow at high tide.”

“For tonight,” said Athena as the sun set before her, “Dionysus is graciously hosting an after-party in his forest to which we’re all invited. Tomorrow, Poseidon will host festivities at the seaside.”

Once again, the crowd went wild.

 

mask.stock

 

But I was already sick of being around people, so as soon as I could sneak away from the party unnoticed, I went home to the empty Museum. For awhile I just sat on the floor of the throne room and reveled in its emptiness. That got boring soon enough, so I went out to the stable to see Pegasus. I was mildly annoyed but not at all surprised when, before very long, Apollo joined us.

“The party too excessive for you?” I laughed as I tossed him a wing brush.

“One per season is more than enough for me,” he joined in my laughter. He went to work on Pegasus’ right wing while I stayed on the same side, untangling Pegasus’ long, silky tail with my fingers. “Athena liked our teamwork today. She wants us to plan on announcing the rest of the tournament together.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

“You’ll be awfully busy,” he said. “I didn’t mention this to Athena, of course, but I can’t be the only one who noticed that you weren’t the obvious choice for personal stylist.”

“Why am I not?” I said, feigning offense. “I gave Persephone that makeover before she and Hades were together. Who even remembers she’s a natural strawberry blonde anymore?”

“True,” said Apollo, “but Beroe’s mother is a beauty goddess. The beauty goddess. And if they specifically wanted a Muse, this whole affair is far more epic than comedic. I’d think Calliope would be the first choice, unless Beroe’s still upset with her.”

“I have a feeling this is about more than mocking my mad fashion skills,” I said.

“You’re helping in other ways, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Don’t you think if I were, Athena would’ve sworn me to secrecy?” I said.

“I suppose,” he acknowledged. “What I don’t understand, though, is how you’re helping. Or how you would be helping if you were, which of course you’re not. I don’t see how either possible outcome of this tournament could be a happy ending for Beroe.”

“She told us which ending she wanted,” I said. “Would you feel better if I told you Dionysus has already agreed to her terms?”

“Not really,” said Apollo.

“He swore,” I said. “I heard it. The Fates will make him uphold it even if he changes his mind.”

“I suppose,” he said.

“Ah, I see,” I said. “You’re worried she’ll change her mind.”

“I just don’t want her to get hurt,” he said.

“None of us do,” I said. “But I really don’t think she’s in love with him. She’s Aphrodite and Adonis’ daughter, remember? Both of them can be pretty mercenary – could be, in Adonis’ case – when it comes to love and sex.”

“Please don’t say ‘sex,'” said Apollo.

“You know she’s older than Adonis was when you were trying to bang him and eventually succeeded, right?”

“And look how well that turned out for everyone involved,” said Apollo.

“Beroe happened,” I said. “She’s turned out pretty well. Remarkably well, actually, all things considered. Look, I know how much you care about her. And even though I never slept with either of her parents and don’t feel any kind of unfounded parental claim on her, I think she’s pretty special, too. I don’t want to see her get hurt any more than you do.”

“I know,” he said, though he didn’t sound convinced.

“Apollo,” I said, “Seriously, what do you think would’ve happened if Adonis had lived? You really think you two would still be together to this day and Beroe would be your stepdaughter?”

“Maybe,” said Apollo. “A single act of infidelity can be forgiven.”

“What about all the other acts of dishonesty?” I said.

“He didn’t owe me anything,” said Apollo. “We weren’t technically together.”

“So technically you’re basing this fantasy on a relationship that existed for less than a week,” I said.

“That’s hardly fair,” said Apollo. “It ended because he died.”

“It ended because he went back to his primary lover who was allowing him to have a fling with you before he settled down with her,” I said.

“You don’t know that,” he said.

“Yes, I do. I heard them. You heard them,” I corrected myself, hoping he’d think I meant the fight right before Adonis died, not the conversation I’d secretly overheard several days before that. “If you’re so sure he would’ve picked you over Aphrodite, why haven’t you resurrected him yet?”

“Right, that’s the only possible reason,” said Apollo. “It couldn’t be because I’m trying to avoid Hades and Persephone’s attention or anything.”

“So why not do it while only one of them is home?” I said. “You have a few more weeks. Do it this week while everyone’s attention is on the tournament.”

“This isn’t just some random nymph,” said Apollo. “This is Hades and Persephone’s son. You don’t think they’ll notice when they go to visit him in the Elysian Fields one day and he isn’t there?”

“Do it now and you’ve got a few weeks before Persephone visits him, at least.” I said.

“It would mean letting Aphrodite in on Asclepius’ secret potion,” said Apollo. “You know she’d use that as leverage in the future.”

“Or you could leave her out of it and get someone who already knows,” I said.

“The only children of the Titans who know are Zeus and Hades, and they aren’t the most reliable allies,” said Apollo.

“We don’t need a child of the Titans,” I said. “Asclepius actually died, right? Like, he was physically killed? He was dead and his soul was in Hades, and then Zeus resurrected him before anyone could ask questions about why he was executed?”

“Yes,” said Apollo. “That sequence of events is rather hard to forget.”

“But apparently it is easy to forget that you know someone who has the memories of the dead and who carries Endymion’s blood,” I said.

“No.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you serious?”

“Are you?” I said. “Or would you rather let Adonis stay dead so you don’t have to face the reality of your relationship with him? That reality being that he was too immature to know what he wanted from anyone, and you wanted a monogamous partnership with a fantasy version of him that only existed in your head?”

“I’m God of both the Sciences and the Arts,” he said. “I have one of the most brilliant minds in the Pantheon. Do you really think I’m so dense that I can’t discern how someone else feels about me? Or what I want from someone else?”

I was silent. For what felt like a decade, we were still except for a few blinks that were much farther apart than they should have been. I want to say that what happened next was some outside force overwhelming my better judgment, but I’d be lying. Grabbing Apollo’s face and fusing it with mine was possibly the most conscious, deliberate choice I had ever made in my life.

mask.stock

3.7 Beroe, Warrior Princess

“What in Tartarus are you all thinking?” Apollo demanded. We were in the common room in the Helicon Museum with the rest of what had become Team Beroe – Aphrodite, Aglaea, Euphrosyne, Eros, Psyche, Calliope, Artemis, and Athena.

“Poseidon wants a seat among the Twelve so he can keep an eye on Zeus,” said Athena. “Zeus felt like outright denying him a place in his court would imply that he does, in fact, see Poseidon as a threat.”

“So he’s counting on Dionysus to win this contest and send him home in defeat?” said Apollo. “Why not issue a general challenge to any of the Twelve who would answer? I’d have fought him for the sake of keeping Beroe out of this.”

“Any of us would have,” said Aphrodite, “but there’d still be the unrelated issue of both Poseidon and Dionysus wanting to marry her. Like Zeus said, this’ll solve both problems at once.”

“I don’t see how Beroe marrying Dionysus is a solution to anything,” said Apollo. “And that’s even assuming he wins.”

“It’s under control,” said Beroe. “I’m not some helpless pawn with no agency.” I believed her, but it struck me as odd that she was completely on board with this plan when, just a few hours earlier, she’d explicitly and emphatically stated that she didn’t want to marry anyone. And when, just a few minutes earlier, she’d met the announcement of this plan with a death glare that I’d totally bought. Was it just an act, then? I’d tried to give Beroe acting lessons when she was a kid. We never got very far because I don’t waste my time on people who blaspheme my sacred tradition. What if Beroe hating acting lessons was an act?

“It won’t be so bad if they get married,” Euphrosyne said to Apollo, her words snapping me out of my reverie. “Dionysus lives in the forest and Beroe likes the forest. She might not even have to live with him. He probably won’t notice.” This also struck me as odd. Seeing the best in everything was Euphrosyne’s shtick, but so was looking out for her kinda-sorta sister. Something was definitely off about all of this. There had to be more going on than we were being informed of, and I was sure Athena was behind it.

“Don’t even try it,” said Apollo, brushing Euphrosyne’s hand away. “I don’t want to be happy about this.”

“Add that to the mile-long list,” I said.

“And you,” Apollo said to Aphrodite. “How could you, for one second, entertain the thought of doing to your daughter what Zeus and Hera did to you?”

“That’s completely different.” said Aphrodite. “Dionysus and Poseidon are sooo much hotter than Hephaestus. Way better in bed, too.” Eros covered his ears and treated us to a few seconds of loud ululating.

“The difference,” Beroe said once he’d quieted down, “is that unlike my mother, I don’t need marriage to be about love. In fact, I prefer it that way. Yeah, I was turned off by all that mushy crap they were throwing at me at the party, but a power play? I’m all over that. I’ll tell whichever idiot I marry that that’s all it is and that they’d better deal with it.”

“Are we even related?” said Eros.

“We’re both children of Aphrodite,” said Beroe. “You got the romance, I got the inability to give a damn.”

“But what you’re suggesting,” said Aglaea, “that’s not what marriage is. Are you telling me you’d be okay with your husband having dozens, maybe hundreds, of lovers? Because that’s going to be the case either way.”

“Yeah, I will. Because I won’t be in love with him,” said Beroe. “And this is exactly what marriage is. A legally binding alliance. Love can have as little or as much to do with it as anyone wants it to.”

“All that aside,” said Apollo, “let’s get back to the part where we’re expecting Dionysus to win this tournament, which I imagine won’t consist of drinking contests and dance-offs.”

“He’s fought before,” said Aphrodite.

“Mortals,” said Apollo.

“Mortals whose deaths I remember,” said Beroe. “He does tend to rely more on shock and awe than on strategic martial arts, but then, I have these memories because he successfully killed these people.”

“Poseidon can’t die,” said Apollo. “He’s a true warrior, a son of the Titans, the Wielder of the Trident.”

“Why don’t you marry him?” Beroe smirked.

“I’m not into obsessive, controlling, cheating pricks,” said Apollo. I kept my thoughts on that statement to myself.

“They have their uses,” said Aphrodite.

“The blue hair’s kind of sexy,” said Euphrosyne. “Even if Beroe ended up losing to- ended up marrying Poseidon, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. She’s half sea goddess.”

“I’m not going to marry Poseidon,” said Beroe. “I want Dionysus to win, and he will. It’s that simple. Love deities can influence the Fates.”

“Since when are you a love deity?” asked Eros.

“Mom is and Dad was,” said Beroe. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You don’t care about anyone else being in love,” said Eros.

“Maybe I’m the first love deity who knows how to mind my own damn business,” said Beroe.

“Guys, don’t fight,” said Euphrosyne. “There are lots of ways to be a love god.”

“It’s okay,” said Psyche. “Beroe really does feel at peace with all of this, and so does Athena. I think we should trust them.”

“Beroe doesn’t love either of them,” Eros persisted.

“Beroe knows that,” said Psyche. “It’s up to her what to do with that information.”

“Even if you’re okay with a marriage of convenience,” said Calliope, “how do you know Dionysus or Poseidon will be? If they decide they have a right to their wife’s body, very few gods outside this room would condemn them for it. The God of Law and his wife the Goddess of Marriage certainly wouldn’t.”

“I don’t have to worry about Poseidon because Dionysus will win,” said Beroe. “And Dionysus will agree to my terms. Trust me.”

“I think we’ve established that Beroe is making an informed decision,” said Athena.

“Yeah,” said Aphrodite. “Everyone who doesn’t live here can go home now.”

“You don’t live here anymore,” said Artemis.

“Right, and I want to go home,” said Aphrodite. She gave Beroe a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. Beroe responded with an indifferent expression and a light pat on the back. She repeated this ritual with Eros and Psyche. I forced myself not to laugh at Beroe’s plight as a non-hugger in a family of love gods. The Olympians went home, and so did the Parnassans.

 

mask.stock

 

I went straight to my room, closed the door, flopped back on the bed, and snapped myself into a nightgown. And had a moment of complete panic as two figures emerged from behind the open doors of my wardrobe.

I calmed down a bit once I recognized the figures as Aglaea and Euphrosyne. They both held a finger to their lips. I silently motioned for them to have a seat on the bed.

“Do we need to have a talk about boundaries?” I whispered.

“The others can’t know we’re here,” said Aglaea. “Not even Calliope, and especially not Apollo.”

“I have a feeling I don’t want to know what this is about,” I said, only because I had a feeling this was pertinent to keeping Beroe safe and alive.

Euphrosyne  took my hand. “What’s more fun than sharing a secret?” she said with a conspiratorial smile. “Come on, we’re the Graces!”

“You have a point,” I agreed. Of course sharing a secret with these two would be fun, I found myself thinking. Why had I ever thought otherwise? In fact, maybe I could convince them to stay for a sleepover and we could eat desserts and try on costumes and share secrets all night. “Okay, what’s the secret?”

“It’s about the tournament,” said Aglaea. “I don’t know why, and I don’t need to, but Athena was very clear that you needed to know the whole story.”

“Aw, that’s so nice of Athena,” I said in sincere bliss. “She knows I love stories.”

“Phrossie, dial it back a little bit,” said Aglaea.

“I’m trying,” said Euphrosyne. “She’s really receptive. Besides, I think she’s fun like this.”

“Story! Story!” I chanted. “Once upon a time…”

“Once upon a time,” said Euphrosyne, “a king and a prince fell in love with a warrior princess.”

“Were they handsome?” I grinned. Why was Aglaea facepalming? Didn’t she like stories?

“Very,” said Euphrosyne. “The king was broad and rugged and had long hair and a thick beard the color of the ocean. The prince was slender and earthy and looked beautiful dressed as a man or a woman or both. The warrior princess hated the king, and while she liked the prince, she didn’t love him. So she devised a plan. She would order the king and the prince to face each other in a tournament. Whoever won the tournament would be given the warrior princess’ hand in marriage.

“The warrior princess was crafty and clever. She and the prince both had the power to change their shape. So they disguised as each other. The prince watched the tournament at the princess’ mother’s side, dressed in dazzling gowns and sparkling coronets. The warrior princess fought the king in the tournament. Because she was so strong and smart and well-trained, the warrior princess defeated the king.

“The warrior princess and the prince changed back to their true forms right after the prize was awarded. The princess had won her own hand in marriage. She belonged to herself.”

“And she lived happily ever after,” I concluded with a happy sigh. “That was such a lovely story! Athena knows what I like. We’re very good friends, you know.”

“Thalia, the princess is Beroe,” said Aglaea. “You can’t tell anyone.”

I held a pillow to my face to muffle my long, delighted giggles. “You mean Beroe is going to disguise as Dionysus and fight Poseidon? That is awesome! Oh, man, that is the funniest thing I ever heard! Right, we can’t tell Apollo, or Calliope. They’ll spoil the fun.”

“And you think the story has a happy ending?” said Aglaea. “Athena seemed to think that was pretty important.”

“It’s a comedy,” I rolled my eyes. “That’s the only way it could possibly end. Who’d end the story by killing the Warrior Princess? That’s just stupid.”

“So, Beroe lives happily ever after?” said Euphrosyne.

“Beroe lives happily ever after,” I repeated with a broad, contented smile. “Hey, do you guys want to have a sleepover? I’ve got these great new group costumes that only work with three people. I made them for me and the Twerps, but they won’t mind.”

“We have to get back to Olympus,” said Aglaea. “We’ll see you at the tournament tomorrow. Don’t forget, you’re taking Beroe to meet Dionysus tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, see you!” I said.

“Bye,” said Euphrosyne. She squeezed my hand. Then she and her mom disappeared.

WTF??????

Stupid Euphrosyne and her stupid living opioid powers. Beroe was…Dionysus was…Oh sure, let the demigoddess fight the Son of the Titans…Gotta tell Calliope…Can’t tell Calliope…Gotta tell Apollo…can’t tell Apollo…Athena, what the…Aglaea, what the…Aphrodite, what the…were all the people mad…W…T…F???????????????????????

Oh, I would be meeting Beroe in the morning, all right.

 

mask.stock

 

I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to hear from the Fates that night. But they’d been silent so long that I also wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear a thing.

 

mask.stock

 

At dawn the next morning, I summoned Beroe to the stable. “Did you talk to Aglaea and Euphrosyne last night?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ll talk more when we get to our destination.” I mounted Pegasus. Beroe mounted him behind me.

“No need,” she said.

“Yes need,” I said. “Pegasus, let’s go to my hollow.”

Pegasus flew us to the secluded little hollow that I’d discovered four years earlier. It wasn’t entirely secret anymore, but less than a handful of people knew about it. It was the best place I could think of to facilitate a secret meeting.

We dismounted by the gazebo. Eros’ wind harp was still standing, and the large cushions on the gazebo floor looked like new. I suspected Eros and Psyche came here on their own from time to time. “So, let’s talk about your plans for the tournament,” I said.

“Let’s not,” said Beroe. “Go, but leave the horse.”

“Are you sure you know what you-”

“Yes. Go.”

I knew there was no persuading Beroe when she was like this, so I did the only sensible thing – floated away, snapped up my Helmet of Darkness as soon as I was behind a tree, put it on, and invisibly floated back just in time to see Dionysus answer Beroe’s summons.

He was wearing a leopard-skin one-shoulder chiton and sporting a wreath of grape leaves on his head. In his arms was a casket of wine. “You called, my love?”

“I need to talk to you about the tournament,” Beroe said.

“I will fight valiantly for your honor,” he declared. “Old Blue-Hair won’t know what hit him.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” said Beroe. “I would appreciate it if you would hear me out on this plan we’ve come up with.”

“Of course, my dearest. Shall we have a drink first?”

“We shall not,” said Beroe.

“As you wish. But could we at least sit down?”

“I guess so.”

They each took a cushion in the gazebo. Beroe gave a quick rundown of her shapeshifting plan. I wasn’t paying too close attention since I’d already heard it. I was mostly keeping a hawk-like eye Dionysus, ready to pounce and to summon Artemis if he made a nonconsensual move.

“So your plan is to win the tournament as me, and then I’ll marry you as me as you?” said Dionysus. “A bit vanilla for my tastes, but we can start out slow.”

“No,” said Beroe. “We change back to our real selves after I accept the prize. Then I have my own hand in marriage. Which means I belong to myself, and no one, not even my mom, can tell me who to marry.”

“Being married to your own hand?” said Dionysus. “I don’t think I’ve heard anything so depressing in my life.” He raised his wineskin to his mouth. Beroe jerked it away.

“Well, after that, I am going to marry you,” said Beroe, “IF you can agree to my terms.”

“Of course,” said Dionysus. He plucked a grape out of his headdress and popped it in his mouth. “Don’t know if you have a safeword in mind already, but my favorite is ‘kumquat’.”

“Shut up and listen. Term number one: we don’t have sex with each other. Ever.”

“I’m out,” said Dionysus.

“No, hear me out before you decide,” said Beroe. “I want to marry you because you being in the Twelve is way better for the Pantheon than Poseidon being in the Twelve. I just don’t want to have any kind of relationship with you. You can still do whatever with whoever else. Just not with me.”

“What about you?”

“If I meet someone I’m actually interested in, I’m free to pursue them.”

“Can I pursue them, too?”

“Not once I’ve locked it down,” said Beroe. “And my final term is that we get a divorce as soon as things cool down with Zeus, and your seat at court isn’t in danger anymore.”

“I don’t like this plan,” said Dionysus.

“It’s a perfect arrangement,” said Beroe.

“The only part I like is where I can hook up with other people, and I can do that now,” said Dionysus. “And the more I see you, the less I want to.”

“Be realistic,” said Beroe. “Do you really think you could handle monogamy?”

“Of course not, but I’d want us to share.”

“How generous,” Beroe deadpanned. “What about keeping your seat on the Twelve? Don’t you care about that?”

“Never did,” said Dionysus. “Zeus only appointed me to piss off Hera. She killed my mother, you know. All I really do for the court is bring the wine whenever there’s a feast, and they’d still ask me to do that even if I wasn’t one of the Twelve. Like I said, I don’t see what I have to gain in your arrangement.”

“Well, you’ve answered the question I wanted to ask you at the after-party,” said Beroe.

“You wanted to talk to me just to find out how I feel about being part of the Twelve?” Dionysus laughed. “What, are you interning with Clio?”

“I wanted to ask if you believed Hera killed your mom,” said Beroe.

“It’s what happened,” Dionysus said with an unsurprising nonchalance. “Everyone knows that.”

“No one knows anything,” said Beroe. “Would you believe me if I said I had all your mom’s memories?”

“When you’ve had a mushroom salad for breakfast, you’ll believe anything,” said Dionysus.

“This is useless,” said Beroe. “Screw politics. I’m winning myself and that’s the end of it.”

“Don’t go,” said Dionysus, sobering up a little or at least trying. “What about my mother’s memories?”

“I know how she died,” said Beroe. “And it’s not the way you think. I know so many things about Hera, and Zeus, and you, and everyone. Too many things. If you’d agree to the rest of my terms, after our wedding I’d tell you how your mother really died.”

Dionysus was quiet. Contemplative, even. He absently reached for his wineskin. Beroe held it out of reach. He let it go. After a bit, he said, “All right. We marry in name only, and you tell me your secrets.”

“It’s a deal.” Beroe held out her hand to shake on it. Dionysus took her hand and kissed it.

“The tournament starts tonight,” said Dionysus. “We’d best practice our shapeshifting.”

 

mask.stock

 

As I floated back to the Museum, I tried not to think about what an insane plan this was, but I couldn’t help it. It did sound reasonable enough on the surface. Beroe was a natural fighter and had been mentored by Artemis, Athena, and Apollo all her life. But all her life was barely over a year. And she still had a distinct disadvantage in that SHE COULD FREAKIN’ DIE. Could Athena really be using Beroe as collateral damage in her gambit? She wouldn’t. Would she? I’d believe she could put her own feelings for Beroe aside in favor of what she considered the greater good, but could she dismiss Artemis’ feelings? Artemis loved Beroe like her own. Had since the day Beroe called Zeus a murderer and Hera a victim in front of the whole court. Artemis would be devastated if Beroe were taken from her. Which I supposed could be used as a revenge motive, but besides the fact that Artemis already had plenty of reasons to hate Zeus, she had to know Athena was running this plan. If it went wrong, she’d lash out at Athena, not Zeus. No, I concluded. Athena must have sufficient reason to believe Beroe would win. If only Beroe hadn’t inherited her parents’ combined obsession-inducing powers and this whole mess had never started in the first place.

Then I started pondering. Beroe wasn’t just the child of two glamour gods. She was the child of two Furies. Did that give her any kind of powers we didn’t know about? What were the Furies’ powers, anyway? I was still rather unclear on that. I hadn’t had the chance to find out. Adonis was a little inaccessible at the moment, and I couldn’t imagine Aphrodite would want to dish all the details to me.

But The Third One might.

 

mask.stock

 

As soon as I got home, I put my helmet away and teleported straight to Olympus instead of going in for breakfast. I’d make up some excuse for skipping morning practice later.

When I knocked at Rhoda’s quarters, a naiad handmaid answered. She told me that Amphitrite was having breakfast in the dining hall. So I had the naiad escort me there. I looked around for Rhoda’s table, but instead, the naiad directed me toward Hera’s very exclusive table, where Amphitrite was seated next to Hestia. Aphrodite and Demeter were there, too. I assumed Persephone was enjoying some alone time. Artemis and Athena usually took their meals at their own place on Helicon these days.

The naiad left me at the entrance and approached the table. She spoke to Amphitrite. Everyone at the table turned to look at me.  Hera looked pleased to see me, which likely meant I’d be stuck with the group for way longer than I’d planned. I put on a smile and answered the naiad’s beckoning.

“Amphitrite,” said Hera, “won’t you stand so Thalia can have a seat?”

“I think there’s plenty of room for another chair,” Aphrodite said with a big smile. “Don’t you?”

“It’ll be a little crowded, but I suppose we could make do,” Hera said, forcing a smile in turn.

“Thank you,” I curtsied. The naiad brought another chair and set it at the foot of the table, effectively next to Amphitrite. She was next to Hestia, who was at Hera’s left hand. I was also next to Demeter, who was next to Aphrodite at Hera’s right hand. I wondered if anyone else was speculating as to the reason for this seating arrangement. I didn’t have to.

“Were you this popular in your own court?” Hera asked Amphitrite. “First Aphrodite demands you-”

Aphrodite cleared her throat.

“First my friend Aphrodite insists on the pleasure of your company at my table,” Hera continued, “and then my favorite Muse, whose last visit to me I can’t remember, comes to my dining hall because you are seated in it.”

“Well, I’ve wanted to come, but you know how Apollo is,” I said. Hey, if he wanted to be Governor of the Muses, he could deal with being thrown under the chariot every now and then. “This morning I went ahead and ditched him. Sometimes you just have to do your own thing and damn the consequences, you know?”

“Have you ever done anything like that?” Aphrodite asked Hera. “I sure would if I was in your place.”

“You can’t possibly know that, because you’re not in my place,” said Hera. “You never have been, and you never will be.”

“No kidding,” said Aphrodite. “I’m not saying you are married to an unstable controlling psycho with criminal tendencies, but if you were, I’d think you’d find a way to have some fun without him. It’s the only way I survived my marriage.”

Hera joined in her merry laughter, then smiled, “You survived your marriage to my son because I couldn’t kill you.”

“He just wasn’t my type,” Aphrodite shrugged. “That goody-two-shoes white knight deal never did anything for me. But I know some women just can’t get enough of the excessively noble.” Aphrodite’s smile grew more threatening by the moment.

“I suppose you managed as well as you could’ve been expected to under the circumstances,” said Hera.

“Here’s to being happily divorced!” Aphrodite raised her glass in delight. Amphitrite, with a warm smile, raised hers as well. Demeter raised hers, her countenance a mixture of anger and triumph. And lastly, Hestia clinked her glass against Amphitrite’s. Hera bore her knife into the table until it snapped.

“So, I guess we can talk about the elephant in the room?” I said.

“I’m relieved someone brought it up,” said Amphitrite. “Demeter, you have my blessing. Poseidon should’ve been yours to begin with.” It was a sincere, contrite offering. Which, from Demeter’s perspective, only made it worse.

“He was mine to begin with,” Demeter said.

“Yeah, that wasn’t the elephant I meant,” I said. “I was thinking of the tournament.”

“Oh, that,” said Hera.

“I’m actually surprised you’re okay with it,” I said. “Isn’t it kind of making a mockery of your sacred institution? Reducing it to a prize in a game show?”

“I wasn’t consulted,” said Hera. “My feelings are, as usual, irrelevant to this court.”

“I think your feelings are very relevant,” said Aphrodite. “If you ask me, you don’t understand how relevant they are. You should try acting on them once in awhile. It’d be good for you. Might be even better for the rest of us.”

“Oh, you don’t want me to act on the feelings I have right now,” Hera laughed.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just disenchant the contestants,” Demeter said to Aphrodite. “It’d solve everyone’s problems.”

“It won’t send Poseidon home,” said Hera. “Not that he’s a threat to us, of course; things just run more smoothly when each king is in his own court. Having him among the Twelve would just be ludicrous. No offense meant, Amphitrite.”

“None taken,” said Amphitrite. “I have no more loyalty toward Poseidon. And, to tell the truth, I agree with you. Claiming a seat among the Twelve is only a power play. He’s been plotting it for the last two years.”

Hera suddenly became much less annoyed by Amphitrite’s presence. “You don’t say?” she remarked.

“I thought it was common knowledge,” said Amphitrite. “It’s why we came to the Games this year. He was originally going to challenge Hestia’s seat, but then Beroe happened, and Dionysus happened, and he decided Dionysus was as easy a target.”

“So, are you saying he doesn’t even love Beroe?” said Demeter. “That he’s just using her as a pawn?”

“Why do people always say ‘using them as a pawn’?” I asked. “Couldn’t you use someone as knight or a rook or something? Sounds more useful.”

“He definitely wants Beroe,” said Aphrodite. “It’s not his fault; she inherited the glamour from both me and Adonis.”

“In what way am I as easy a target as Dionysus?” said Hestia. There was a touch of anger in her eyes, but it was overwhelmed by hurt.

“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” Amphitrite apologized. She squeezed Hestia’s hand. Hestia pulled her hand away. “And it was Poseidon’s idea, not mine. He thought you’d be the one most likely to step down voluntarily if challenged. Your role isn’t very active or mobile. You can govern the realm of Hearth and Home without being one of the Twelve.”

“I’m a Daughter of the Titans,” said Hestia. “I was created by Cronus and Rhea, their King and Queen, the same as Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hades, and Poseidon himself.”

“Of course,” said Amphitrite. “You deserve your place among the Twelve as much as any of your brethren.”

“You wouldn’t have let him,” Hestia pleaded with Hera, “would you?”

Hera placed a gentle hand on Hestia’s shoulder. “Darling, you are one of my oldest friends, and you know I would miss you if you weren’t here. You will always be in my circle, no matter what happens. But I can’t speak for my husband.”

Hestia didn’t shrug off Hera’s hand, but she didn’t look the least bit pacified. She turned toward Hera with a face full of pain and said softly, “Are you Queen or aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” said Hera.

“Just now,” said Hestia, “you all but said that you’d have to abide by Zeus’ decision as to whether one of your oldest and dearest friends remained a member of your court, regardless of what you wanted. That doesn’t sound like a reigning Queen. I never thought I would see the day when Hera, most powerful of Rhea’s daughters, would be reduced to a mere consort. Though I suppose I should have seen it coming. We all should have.”

Hera withdrew her hand. “I am no consort,” she said. “Olympus is mine as much as it is Zeus’.”

“Marriage is being offered up as a token to be won in a game like a wreath of laurel leaves, and you weren’t even consulted,” said Hestia. “None of this is your fault. Like I said, I should have seen all of this coming. A court that cares so little for marriage will care as little for hearth and home.”

“Hestia, dear, you look tired,” said Hera. “Maybe you’d better go lie down.”

“I think you’re right,” said Hestia. She disappeared.

“If you’ll excuse me,” said Amphitrite, “I’ll see to her.” She got up and walked out of the room.

“I still need to talk to Amphitrite,” I excused myself. I made a quick bow, then took off for the hallway before anyone could stop  me.

I saw Amphitrite a little ahead of me. “Wait,” I called as I ran to her.

She stopped. “Oh, that’s right,” she said. “There’s something you wanted to say to me?”

“Yeah,” I said, “and I didn’t want to bring it up in front of the others. This is kind of awkward, but I think I owe you thanks for something that happened ages ago. I would have thanked you then, but I’ve just very recently figured out it was probably you, and I’m still not totally sure.”

“You mean changing you back from a mermaid to your proper form after you concluded your relationship with my son,” Amphitrite smiled. “You needn’t worry. If I wanted praise for it, I’d have taken credit. As much as I loved the idea of having you for a daughter-in-law, I understood your reasons for breaking things off with Triton and returning to Zeus’ realm. I thought if you knew I’d reversed Hestia’s spell, you might feel beholden to me. To us. I didn’t want that.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, “because I would never be able to repay you.”

“It was the decent thing to do,” Amphitrite said. “Besides, it all worked out for the best. Triton and Galataeia are very happy together.” Of course they were. “I hope I can still visit the Ocean Realm to see my granddaughters,” she sighed. “Poseidon became indifferent toward me a long time ago, but still, he can be so spiteful.”

“If all else fails, they can visit you in the Springs of Helicon,” I said.

“That’s kind of you,” said Amphitrite. “If I may ask, what made you suspect me after all these centuries?”

“I’d rather tell you somewhere more private,” I said.

I could tell she understood. “Wait for me in Rhoda’s quarters,” she said. “I’ll be there as soon as I know Hestia’s all right.”

 

mask.stock

 

“I think I know what you want to tell me,” said Amphitrite as soon as we were alone together, seated on a long chaise in Rhoda’s ante chamber. “Your sister told you, didn’t she? It’s all right; she wasn’t sworn to secrecy.”

I nodded, grateful that she’d offered me this excuse for my knowledge. Whether or not she believed it as much as she appeared to, she was willing to accept it, and that was enough. “I know about you and Alecto and Tisiphone,” I said.

“I’m glad Calliope told you,” she said. “I’d hoped you and I might be friends again now that I’m living here, and it’ll be a relief to have a friend who already knows about my past.”

“You’re welcome to talk about it as much as you want,” I said, trying not to sound too eager. “I can keep a secret.”

“Well, as I’m sure Calliope told you, my name was Megaera,” she said. “Alecto was released first because she was the leader. She was supposed to infiltrate Zeus’ court and bring back information to us. Then Tisiphone and I would be released, infiltrate Hades’ and Poseidon’s courts, and stage a coup for the Titans’ release. But before the Titans could retrieve Alecto, Hades made plans to move their prison from Tartarus to a star built just to contain them. My release was quite rushed. Tisiphone was supposed to be released at the same time. I don’t know what happened. I suppose they were moved to the star too soon. I don’t know if she was ever released.”

Okay. Well, I was glad she said that before I assumed too much shared knowledge. The story explained a lot. We had speculated about Amphitrite being Aphrodite’s sister for ages because her appearance was basically a less impressive version of Aphrodite’s. The Titans had probably taken the proper time to build Aphrodite’s façade, but in the rush to complete Amphitrite’s, had just run off a quick copy. They’d probably had a harder time releasing Adonis from their new prison and had had to resort to reincarnation, hence his resemblance to his actual Olympian blood ancestors, Selene and Endymion.

“What about Alecto?” I asked. “Do you know what happened to her?”

“I don’t,” Amphitrite said sadly. “I’ve been trying to find out. I suspect she’s Athena, and that maybe that’s why Zeus was supposedly able to create her ‘from nothing’. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her, though. How would one even broach a subject like that?”

“I wouldn’t begin to guess,” I said. “If I were you, though, I’d give it a try.”

“I appreciate the encouragement,” she smiled.

“And Tisiphone,” I said. “You don’t even know if she was ever released?”

“It seems unlikely,” she laughed. “If Tisiphone was in Hades, I don’t think we’d have to wonder. I don’t know what the Titans’ plan was for getting her past Persephone. Persephone wasn’t even born yet when we were created, you know. That’s what I meant when I said they waited too long for Tisiphone’s release. Persephone threw off their whole timetable. I was supposed to be the third one, but they were waiting for Hades to tire of Persephone and be receptive to a mistress.” She sighed wistfully. “It never happened.”

“This might be a really strange question,” I said, “but, my nephew, Orpheus?”

“Calliope’s son? The one Dionysus killed?”

“Yeah, that one. Do you know if there’s any way he could have known about any of this?”

“How funny,” said Amphitrite. “Calliope asked me the same question. I never met Orpheus, so I don’t know what to tell you.”

“No problem.”

The door opened. It was Rhoda. “Hey, Thalia,” she briefly acknowledged me. “Mom, you still want to go for a swim? I know my pool isn’t the same as the ocean, but Hephaestus says it’s as big as one can possibly be in this palace. People are already using ‘Olympic-sized’ as a standard for giant swimming pools.”

“Of course,” said Amphitrite. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Rhoda went out to the pool. Amphitrite said to me, “It was lovely visiting with you. Please come by again, maybe when I’m not surrounded by courtiers,” she laughed. “And maybe I’ll see you at the tournament this evening?”

“I’ll be there,” I said.

3.6 Two Princes

It was dawn-ish when I got to bed, and well past noon when I was up again. The same was true for Apollo and most of my sisters. Most. Some got home later.

Once I was fully awake, I staggered to Apollo’s laboratory in search of a hangover relief potion. Apollo had apparently gotten the same idea himself. I found him leaning over his worktable and tediously measuring out the very ingredients I wanted. He didn’t keep hangover potions on hand because, in his esteemed opinion, we shouldn’t be getting drunk on a regular basis anyway.

“I, uh, thought the rest of you might-“

“I won’t tell the others you’re as smashed as I am,” I said. “Just mix me a full dose.”

“Deal,” he said. “While I’m mixing, will you get a couple of salves? Just basic cuts and bruises.”

I surveyed the damage. “Can’t you heal those yourself?” I asked.

“Oh.” He waved a clumsy hand. His smooth skin was instantly restored to its usual state of perfection.

“Your night was that good, huh?” I said.

“Calliope was summoned away, and I found the Maenads again,” he said.

“You found them or they found you?” I laughed.

“A little of both,” he said with a guilty smile. “What about your night? I’m sure Dionysus was a perfect gentleman?” He inspected two vials of the mixture. Satisfied, he handed one to me and drank one himself.

“Dionysus lost interest as soon as Beroe came in,” I said. “One look, and he decided she is his future wife. And the weird thing was, she seemed kind of interested in him, too.”

When people get a shock while they’re in the middle of swallowing liquid, they don’t usually spray it out all over the place like the standard slapstick sight gag. They just choke. I came up behind Apollo and slipped my arms around his torso. “Arms up,” I calmly instructed. “Relax. Don’t force it, your body knows what to do,” I coaxed as I pumped right below his sternum.

I let go when he was breathing normally again and had regained enough dexterity to push my arms away like the ingrate that he is. Then I chugged down my own potion.

“Please tell me nothing happened between them,” Apollo said.

“They talked a little bit,” I said. “Sounded like they’ll probably talk some more.”

“Does she know who he is?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He wasn’t shapeshifted or anything. He was in drag like how you saw him, but he introduced himself, and several people confirmed his identity in her presence.”

“No, does she know who he is?” said Apollo. “What kind of person he is? As in, completely unsuitable for her?”

“You know she’s heard us talk about him,” I said. “And I don’t know about unsuitable. I mean, I know girls going after guys like their fathers is a stereotype, but most stereotypes exist for a reason. Or is ‘stereotypes exist for a reason’ a stereotype in and of itself? Stereoception…”

“Is everything a joke to you?” said Apollo.

“I’m the Muse of Comedy, so, pretty much, yeah,” I said.

“Maybe I should talk to her,” said Apollo.

“Okay, listen,” I said, laying my delightful jocularity aside for the moment. “Beroe is not your daughter.”

“I know,” said Apollo.

“She is Aphrodite’s daughter. Adonis made a baby with Aphrodite and not you. Aphrodite was not, like, your surrogate or something, she is the woman Adonis made a lovechild with because he was in love with her,” I reiterated. “Are you completely cognizant of all of this?”

“Are we talking about the same story?” said Apollo. “Because the Adonis I remember was murdered in cold blood before he could make a choice, and the mother of his ‘lovechild’ was back to sleeping with his murderer before said child was half grown.”

“Well, that ‘child’ is a fully grown woman now,” I said. “It’s her own business who she wants to get involved with, up to and including Zeus himself. Or Hera herself. I have no idea what she’s into.”

“Who knows,” said Apollo. “Maybe that’s what’ll provoke Zeus to finally kill her.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “If Zeus can kill Hera, he can kill you.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Apollo. “Zeus swore he wouldn’t kill any of the people gathered in that room. Hera and I were both among them. Besides, Hera having an affair is slightly less likely to happen than Ares becoming a pacifist.”

I didn’t say a word.

“What?” said Apollo.

“I didn’t say a word,” I said.

“But you looked something,” he said. “You’re thinking something.”

“It’s nothing,” I insisted.

“You can tell me,” he said with a conspiratorial smile. “As long as they can’t hear you, there’s nothing you could say about either of Their Majesties that I’ll find inappropriate.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” I said. “You know how much I hate it when you think something I’ve done or said is inappropriate. Seriously, it was nothing.”

“I don’t think it was,” said Apollo.

“Hey, look! Beroe’s making questionable choices!” I pointed in a random direction.

“Thalia,” said Apollo, becoming more serious, “you weren’t thinking of just a crude joke, were you?”

“Yes, that was all,” I said. “I called Hera a really bad name in my head and I feel bad about it now.”

“Is there something you know that I don’t?” Apollo persisted.

“That’s a pretty long list,” I said. “Do you have about half a millennium to spare?”

“I’m going to ask you a very direct question, and, as a friend, I would appreciate it very much if you would give me a direct answer,” said Apollo, dead serious now. “Is Hera having an affair?”

“As a friend,” I said, “I know that Hera is someone who has hurt you and your family. A lot. And as a friend, I would be very concerned that, if you had this kind of information on her, you’d use it as leverage to hurt her back. And that you’d want badly enough to hurt her that you’d use someone who’s hurt you even more to do it.”

“You mean Zeus,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I wouldn’t use him as a hitman,” said Apollo. “Not when he could turn on me or my family at any second. If Hera’s having an affair, I just want the satisfaction of knowing. Do you know how many times I’ve had to listen to Hera call my mother a whore for letting herself be raped in her sister’s place? I just want to know the Pure and Holy Virtuous Goddess of Marriage is as much of an amoral hypocrite as anyone else at court.”

“You already know she torments children for the sins of their father,” I said. “Theoretically, if she were having an affair, would you really need that knowledge on top of it?”

“You have a point,” he accepted. He changed the subject. “I didn’t see much of Artemis or Athena all week, did you?”

“No, they kept to themselves most of the time,” I said. “I only ran into them once or twice. Seems like they were having a good anniversary.”

“I was thinking of visiting them at Helicon later today,” he said. “You and Calliope should come with me. Maybe you’ll have a chance to talk to Athena alone. I’m sure she misses you.”

“I’m sure Athena could go so very much longer than a week without missing me,” I said, thinking Apollo could use a stronger dose of his hangover potion.

“But so much happens during the Games,” said Apollo. “You’ll want to catch each other up.”

Oh.

Ohhhh.

Oh.

I sighed. “When do we leave?”

 

mask.stock

 

When the three of us got to Helicon late that afternoon, we were far from alone. Both Dionysus and Poseidon stood outside the Museum, each accompanied by a battalion of gift-bearing minions. A dozen Maenads were with Dionysus. They carried bushels of grapes, caskets of wine, and all kinds of offerings from the forest. One of the Maenads threw Apollo a leer of recognition. He blushed, seeming embarrassed at her attention and his pleasure therein. I barely noticed, because I was busy checking out the twelve ripped, shirtless, blue-haired soldiers behind Poseidon. Each one carried an open chest of gold, gems, and seashells. I knew a little something about the maritime economy from when I’d lived with Poseidon’s son. Those seashells were worth way more than the gems.

Aphrodite was standing out front listening to Poseidon and Dionysus talk over each other. Given the fact that neither god had skipped this formality and teleported inside, I deduced that one of the goddesses had placed some sort of invisible shield over the Museum.

“Thalia,” Apollo whispered to me, “is Poseidon here for the reason I think he is?”

“It depends on why you think he’s here,” I whispered back. “Here for the party? Here to kick ass and chew bubblegum? Here-“

“For the same reason Dionysus is here,” said Apollo.

“Did I forget to mention that Poseidon proposed to Beroe last night, too?” I said. “Don’t worry, she wasn’t interested.”

“Poseidon’s already married,” said Apollo.

“Not anymore,” said Calliope, her hushed volume matching ours. “I was with Persephone and Amphitrite when Aphrodite delivered the news.”

“You were with Amphitrite last night?” I said. “How long?”

“I’ll catch you up later,” said Calliope.

“Amphitrite must have been devastated,” said Apollo.

“Actually, she was relieved,” said Calliope. “She’s staying with Rhoda and Helios until she figures out a more permanent arrangement.”

“Poseidon left Amphitrite for Beroe, Amphitrite’s happy about it, and Beroe turned Poseidon down anyway?” Apollo reiterated.

“Yes,” I said. “Calliope, are you sure you don’t want to catch us up now?” I asked, not feeling particularly eager to carry out my errand on this visit. “How did you meet up with Persephone and Amphitrite last night? Did one of them summon you?”

“Persephone did,” Calliope said. “But this can wait.”

Calliope strode to the front of the line while we followed a couple paces behind. “My Lords,” she said. The two gods went silent and diverted their attention from Aphrodite and each other to her. “Aphrodite,” she greeted our hostess, the informality a token of friendship rather than irreverence. “What seems to be the trouble?” Seeing that she was clearly still addressing Aphrodite, the gods didn’t answer.

Aphrodite did. “They both want to marry my daughter, and I’m hearing their cases,” said Aphrodite. “It would be a lot easier if she’d COME OUT AND TALK TO THEM HERSELF,” she shouted in the direction of Beroe’s wing of the Museum.

“I said I’m not marrying anyone!” Beroe’s voice answered back from out of sight. “Is that Calliope?”

“And Thalia and Apollo,” I called.

“I’ll see them,” said Beroe. “But only them. Still not marrying anyone.”

“Go ahead,” Aphrodite nodded to us.

“Calliope,” said Dionysus. His eyes were clear and his voice was steady.

“Yes?” Calliope said, startled at the address.

“I don’t imagine I can expect a good word from you?”

Calliope’s face said everything her words couldn’t. “I can’t control how Beroe feels,” she said. “But you deserve a fair word, and that’s what I’ll give.”

We walked past Aphrodite with no problem. She must have charmed the barrier to let us through. Once we were through the columns of the empty open-air rotunda, we saw Beroe off to the side, just inside the entrance to the wing that housed her quarters. She motioned for us to follow. We silently went with her to her door.

Once she locked us all in the room, she asked Apollo, “Can we get a sun globe?”

Apollo complied. A small round globe of light materialized in the middle of the room near the ceiling. It was blinding at first, but once Beroe shuttered the windows, the lighting was the same as the pleasant sunshine outside. “There we go,” said Beroe. “Have a seat.” She motioned to some giant cushions strewn around the room. We all took one. She did, too.

“Are you being threatened?” Apollo asked.

“I’m being annoyed,” Beroe said. “Poseidon, I’m not worried about at all. Mom doesn’t want me to move to the Ocean Realm, so I’m safe there.”

“And what about Dionysus?” Apollo asked.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you guys about,” Beroe said. “Now, I want to make it clear that I’m not interested in Dionysus romantically. At all.” I laughed a little at Apollo’s dramatic relief. Beroe continued, “He’s hot and everything, but I just don’t want a relationship with anyone right now, and a hookup with him would be too much drama.”

“Understood,” said Calliope. “But?”

“There is something I’ve been wanting to tell him, for a while now,” said Beroe. “That’s why I went to the after party last night. I knew he’d be there. I didn’t expect the idiot to propose to me right away. But I still really need to talk to him. I was wondering if you’d be willing to facilitate a meeting at the Parnassus museum. A secret meeting. I don’t want anyone to think I’m dating him, or make it out to be a bigger deal than it is in any way. Except it kind of is a big deal, which is why I don’t want anyone to know about it.”

“What do you want to tell him?” I asked.

“That’s my business,” Beroe said.

“Of course,” Calliope said, “but knowing more about what’s going on could help us help you.”

“It has to do with one of my memories,” said Beroe. “That’s all you need to know. My memories are mine, and I’m not obligated to share them with anyone. You know Psyche’ll back me up on that.” Beroe flicked her wrist and produced a familiar notarized document signed by Psyche and dated a little under a year ago. It read, Beroe’s memories belong to her. She is not obligated to share them with anyone.

Calliope’s self-restraint could almost be physically felt. “Was Dionysus in this memory?” she asked with an affected calm and pleasantness.

“I told you, it’s none of your business,” said Beroe. “It’s just something I feel like I need to let him know, if he doesn’t already.”

“I was just thinking it might be helpful to talk to someone else first,” said Calliope, keeping up the same restraint and affectation.

“It would not,” said Beroe.

Calliope’s restraint broke. “Look, I already know,” she said. “The Corybantes told me. Dionysus didn’t kill my son; Zeus did. Because of some secret he’d discovered.”

“No, that’s not it,” said Beroe.

“Beroe, please, don’t lie to me,” Calliope pleaded. “You know the secret, don’t you? My sons know it. My mother knows it. No one will tell me. Can’t you? Please? I just want to know what my son died for.”

“Wait, the Corybantes are your sons?” said Beroe.

“Way to go, Calliope,” I said.

“I thought you two had them together,” Beroe indicated me and Apollo. “So you really aren’t sleeping with Thalia? Dad never could figure out whether you were or not. Half the time you were with him, you couldn’t shut up about her.”

For the moment, Beroe became my favorite person in the known universe. “Hey,” I said, “your memories, your business. And if you want to talk to Dionysus in private, I know just the place. I’ll take you there tomorrow, and then you can summon him.”

“Thank you!” said Beroe. “Nice to know one of you respects me as an autonomous person.”

“Beroe-” Calliope started.

“Since apparently we owe each other all our secrets,” said Beroe, “who’s the Corybantes’ father? I doubt it’s Apollo. There’d be no reason for either of you to cover that up.”

“You’ve made your point,” said Calliope. “You’re right. It’s none of my business. Why should I need to know why my son was murdered?”

“You do know why,” said Beroe. “Partly, at least. And you know when, how, and by whom. That’s way more than a lot of people get. Thalia, you’ll pick me up tomorrow?”

“Right after lunch,” I said. “Or I can pack a picnic and make it high noon.”

“Make it dawn, before breakfast,” said Beroe. Why was I keeping this person alive again? “And you’ll leave us alone as soon as Dionysus answers my summons.”

“Of course,” I said. I crossed my fingers behind my back.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be completely alone with Dionysus in an isolated location,” said Apollo.

“I don’t care,” said Beroe.

“Your father didn’t care, either,” said Apollo.

“Thank you,” said Beroe. “You’d think I’d know that, with me inheriting Dad’s memories and having spent half my childhood reliving his death and everything. I’m so glad I have you to fill in the gaps.”

“I know you have his memories,” said Apollo. “I’m just saying, if you want one of us to be there-“

“You were there when Dad died,” said Beroe. “You couldn’t stop it. What’s going to happen is going to happen, and none of you can do anything about it.”

“Just be careful,” said Apollo.

“I’m not going unarmed,” said Beroe. “I can take him in a fight.”

“Summon one of us if there’s any trouble,” said Apollo. I inferred that “one of us” meant any of the elders in Beroe’s life, not just the three in the room.

“Sure,” Beroe said with careful carelessness. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll call you so you can watch me die, too.”

“Don’t talk like that,” said Calliope.

“Hey,” said Beroe, “I’m the only one here who has to deal with the possibility of being killed. I get to decide how I cope with that, not you.” She stood up. We did likewise. “Now, I don’t think you guys actually came here to see me. You should probably go take care of whatever you’re really here for. Artemis and Athena are out, but I’ll bet they’ll come back if you summon them.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, contentedly matching her typical lack of ceremony. I liked Beroe’s lack of ceremony.

“Be careful,” said Apollo.

“Aren’t I always?” Beroe said with a cheeky grin.

Calliope didn’t say anything.

Once we were closed out in the corridor, Apollo said, “Calliope, I guess we’d better summon Artemis; and Thalia, wasn’t there something you wanted to talk to Athena about?”

“Are you sure I said that?” I replied.

“I’m very sure,” he said.

“What were you going to talk to Athena about?” asked Calliope.

“I’ll catch you up later,” I said.

I closed myself in one of the uninhabited rooms and summoned Athena. She didn’t take long to appear. “Thalia,” Athena greeted me with a smile. Why was I freaked out by the fact that she was glad to see me? “Artemis got Apollo’s summons a couple minutes ago, so I figured someone would be calling me soon enough. What’s on your mind?”

“The Pythian Games went pretty good this year, huh?” I said. “Did you and Artemis have a good anniversary?”

“It was wonderful,” said Athena. “I even got Artemis to sit through the chess tournament.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“It was,” said Athena. “What do you really want?”

“Right. Okay. So, you know how you like to solve hypothetical scenarios?”

“I hate hypothetical scenarios.”

“Hypothetically, say I’d stumbled upon something that could lead to a major scandal that could mean huge trouble for an Olympian goddess of significant power. Would you want me to tell you about it?”

I half expected Athena to be annoyed, but she looked…amused? “Hypothetically,” she said, “suppose, for a number of complex strategic reasons, I needed a particular goddess to have an affair. Now, suppose I knew of a handsome, powerful mortal man who’d had a lifelong devotion to this goddess that went beyond mere worship, to the point that he fell in love with a woman who resembled the images of that goddess that adorned his home. Hypothetically, suppose he already had this goddess’ attention through the prayers and sacrifices he was offering for her blessing on his impending marriage. Hypothetically, suppose it would be a simple matter to bring this mortal’s bride to the goddess’ husband’s attention. Hypothetically, suppose I had the power to manipulate both cuckolded parties into not only meeting, but living under the same roof.”

“Whoa!” I said. “You got Dia killed?”

“Who’s Dia?” Athena said with an innocent shrug. “Hypothetically, let she who has never used a human as collateral damage cast the first stone. My point is, hypothetically, if a scandal like the one you’ve hypothesized was in the works, do you really think the Muse of Comedy would know about it before the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy?”

“Hypothetically, bugging the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy with this would be her idiot brother-in-law’s stupid idea,” I hastily disclaimed.

“I figured as much,” said Athena. “By the way, how are things between you and Apollo these days?”

“You know, I think I’d better be getting home.”

“It was nice to see you. Have a good evening.”

 

mask.stock

 

I went to Calliope’s room that evening after dinner. Once she’d closed the door behind us, I said, “Want to catch up?”

“Might as well,” she said. Obviously she was still upset about the way our talk with Beroe had gone.

“I’ll go first,” I offered. I told her all about Poseidon and Dionysus’ suit for Beroe, about Eros breaking Amphitrite’s age-long love spell, about Hera’s hostility to the very idea of a married couple divorcing for a silly reason like not loving each other. I told her about Dionysus going to his old friend Pan for relationship advice. I didn’t tell her about Hera and Ixion. It didn’t really have anything to do with her, and I’d already not-told too many people this story that wasn’t mine to tell. Besides, the story about Dionysus and Pan had her laughing, which I felt was the best way to end things. “So, let’s hear your story,” I concluded.

“Well,” she said, “I missed everything with Beroe and her suitors since I was at the other side of the tent by the wine fountain. I didn’t drink enough to completely lose control, just enough to relax. I remember the whole night.” I inferred from her broad smile that there were some good memories in there somewhere.

“I’d already had a few dances and turned down propositions from a few handsome immortals I didn’t recognize when I got a summons from Persephone,” she went on. “I joined her in her room in Demeter’s quarters on Olympus. Aphrodite was with her. Amphitrite was lying on her bed in a drugged stupor, twisting and mumbling. At first I thought she was sick. I asked if they’d summoned Aglaea. Persephone said she hadn’t, and there was a reason she’d summoned me instead. Do you know how Eros’ lead arrows work as a love spell antidote?” she asked.

“I know that they do,” I said. “I never gave much thought as to the how.”

“I hadn’t either,” Calliope said. “Aphrodite told me last night. The gold arrows, as you know, cause infatuation. All you can see is a person’s best qualities. If they don’t have any good qualities, your mind invents some and ascribes them to the object of your infatuation. The lead arrows, the antidote, neutralize the infatuation by making you remember the person’s worst qualities and everything about them that’s unappealing to you. It resets your mind to its pre-infatuation state.”

“So you’re saying the lead arrows are actually a memory spell?” I said. I had an idea of where this was going.

“Exactly,” said Calliope. “Aphrodite had already told Persephone that she remembered our encounter at Adonis’ passage into Hades. The Furies, the Titans’ relocation, all of it. Persephone wasn’t happy about it, but she knew she’d have to go back to Hades to get more Lethe water, and she’s almost made it through an entire season without a tantrum from Demeter. Besides, she now had an answer to something she’d been wondering about for almost two years, or so she thought.”

“Let me guess. Adonis did drink the vial I gave him?” I said. “And somewhere along the line, he told his parents?”

“She knows; Hades doesn’t,” said Calliope. “They visit the Elysian Fields from time to time, you know. Surveying their kingdom. Communing with their most honored subjects. The first time Persephone saw Adonis there, she completely broke down. I guess Adonis felt sorry for her, because the next time she came alone, he told her the truth. He said he didn’t know who gave him the vial, though. Persephone’s asked Mom, who’s denied knowing anything about it. Aphrodite told Persephone about her and me waking up with the same vials next to our beds. Persephone wanted to know if I had any idea of where they came from. I told her I didn’t. I have a hard time believing she doesn’t suspect, since she’s the one who gave you the Helmet of Darkness in the first place, but I figured I should play along.”

“Was that the only reason she called you?” I asked.

“No,” said Calliope. “Do you remember Amphitrite started to say a different name after she was shot?”

“I thought she was just mumbling,” I said.

“She wasn’t. She started to say Megaera,” said Calliope. “After she was in Persephone’s room, she did say it, all the way. Persephone gave her a mild sleeping potion before she called us.

“Adonis and Persephone have had a lot of time to talk since he- she- Adonis hasn’t decided on pronouns, so I’m going to keep saying he- died. Persephone’s learned a lot about the Furies, including their original names. Adonis’ name was Tisiphone. Aphrodite’s was Alecto. The third one was Megaera.”

“Did Aphrodite remember all that, too?” I asked.

“She confirmed it,” said Calliope. “They were like the first children of the Titans. Not sisters the way we are, just a set of creatures made by the same creators. The Titans made one for each kingdom. Alecto, the most powerful, was for Zeus. She was the only one who could challenge him. Tisiphone, the most alluring, was for Hades. She was the only one who could charm her way into his household. Megaera, the third one, was for Poseidon’s. She was kind of an afterthought. When the Titans were first imprisoned, they thought Zeus and Hades would divide the world between the two of them. They split Megaera off from Alecto at the last minute when they learned Poseidon would rule a third realm.”

“Wow. I really hope Amphitrite was still asleep when they told that story,” I said.

“She was,” said Calliope.

“And I’m still a little unclear on why they called you,” I said. “Did they just want to compare notes?”

“Persephone was trying to figure out what to do about Amphitrite, and she felt like I’d be more help than Aphrodite,” Calliope said. “The news of Amphitrite’s divorce made things even more complicated.”

“So what did you guys decide?” I asked.

“When the sleeping potion wore off, we gave her a chance to get her bearings,” said Calliope. “Persephone and I confirmed her new memories. Aphrodite told her Hera had granted the divorce. Amphitrite was ecstatic at this news. Apparently, before she was enchanted, sex in general just wasn’t that appealing to her. That sent Aphrodite into a panic. Now she’s worried Beroe’s the same way.”

“Hence her determination to get Beroe hooked up with one of her suitors,” I deduced.

“Likely,” said Calliope. “Anyway, Aphrodite left, and we summoned Rhoda, who, thankfully, was sober enough to have a serious conversation. She was more than happy to put Amphitrite up in her own quarters. She always knew her parents’ marriage was an unhappy one, and she’s looking forward to helping her mom get a new start.

“Once that was taken care of, I went back to the after party and stayed there the rest of the night,” Calliope concluded.

“And?”

“And what?”

“Oh, come on,” I said. “The way you’re smiling, there’s got to be more. I don’t think I’ve seen you smile like that since…oh my goddess, you didn’t!”

“Yeah,” Calliope blushed. “I hadn’t planned on it, but Ares was there, Aphrodite was done with him for the night, and, well, one thing led to another. Don’t worry, I remembered the contraception spell.”

“That’s awesome!” I said.

“It was a ridiculous thing to do,” said Calliope, “and I doubt I’ll repeat it. I don’t love Ares. I can’t even honestly say I like him. But I know him, and he knows my body, and I needed this. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

“You don’t have to explain anything,” I assured her. “I really am happy for you.” I was. As much as I disliked Ares, I knew what a big step this was for her.

“What about you?” she asked.

“Nothing exciting,” I said. “After eavesdropping, I just got hammered and danced a lot. I think I was swinging from a tent pole at one point.”

“You never ran into Apollo or anyone?”

“Nope. I guess the Maenads kept him busy.”

“Well, good for him,” said Calliope. But she seemed a little disappointed.

Suddenly, I was distracted. “Athena’s summoning me to the Olympian Court,” I said.

“Persephone’s summoning me,” said Calliope.

“I’ll meet you there,” I said.

 

mask.stock

 

Calliope and I materialized in the center of the throne room alongside Beroe and Persephone. Beroe stood at attention, armed with her bow, quiver, and hunting knife. She flashed me a brief look of grateful acknowledgment. She ignored Calliope. The Twelve were all seated in their thrones, except Zeus, Aphrodite, and Dionysus, who each stood before theirs. Poseidon stood beside Zeus.

“It seems my interests and Aphrodite’s have intersected,” said Zeus. “Poseidon has petitioned me for a seat in my court. There is power in a circle of twelve, and misfortune in thirteen. Expanding my court by one more is out of the question, as is simply dismissing one of the Twelve without just cause.

“Aphrodite tells me that Poseidon and my son, Dionysus, are rivals for the hand of her daughter, Beroe. Aphrodite is unwilling to give her daughter to the Ocean Realm, but has not ruled out giving her to its King.”

Beroe tensed her arms, ready to reach for her knife or her bow. What was the gambit here? To say Aphrodite had resented being matched with Hephaestus against her will was the ultimate understatement. So was saying she hadn’t been thrilled about her son getting married, period. Surely she wouldn’t do the same thing to her daughter.

“In my wisdom and justice,” said Zeus, “I have decided to solve both conflicts with one resolution. Aphrodite?”

“You both make a good case,” Aphrodite said. “I’d be pleased to see my daughter hook up with either one of you.” How could she be so glib about this. So…happy? If the next words out of her mouth weren’t But she doesn’t want to, I was going to scream. “So I’m going to give you two a chance to prove which of you is the superior suitor. I’ve commissioned Athena, the Goddess of Battle Strategy, to design a series of trials in which Poseidon and Dionysus will compete against one another. The winner of the tournament will be given Beroe’s hand in marriage. You have my word.”

I was tensed to run for cover. I was seriously afraid Beroe would shoot us all in the head and blow up the palace. But she just gripped her knife harder and kept her eyes on Aphrodite. Her ominous, deep, hate-filled eyes. Her eyes of fury.

“And you have my word,” said Zeus, “that whichever of these two gods marries Beroe will be numbered among the Twelve.”

mask.stock

3.5 Shadows

I managed to catch the flap of the tent from Ixion’s entrance and sneak in after him. It was dark inside. A shadow from the Amphitheater wall kept the moonlight from revealing that the tent was occupied. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, though, I could see without a doubt that it was Hera who stood waiting for Ixion, and who had just told him, “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Why?” Ixion replied with slightly nervous laughter. “One doesn’t turn down an audience with the Queen of Olympus.”

Hera’s face tightened. “It was an invitation, not an order,” she said. “You were free to refuse. I’ll gladly send you anywhere you’d rather be.”

“Forgive me, My Lady,” said Ixion. “I accepted your invitation because I don’t enjoy loud, cramped festivities, and I do enjoy the privilege of your company. I assumed you extended the invitation because you share these feelings.”

And by “company” did he mean…?

Hera softened. “You’re right,” she said. “The food and wine are always good, but beyond that, I hate these kinds of events. Ceremonial appearances are different, of course.”

“The ceremonies give you a script to follow,” Ixion nodded in sympathy, “and appearing before a crowd isn’t nearly as taxing as mingling among it.”

“Before I met you, I never would have expected a mortal to understand,” she said.

“Before I met you, I never would have expected a goddess to be so…”

“So what?” Hera asked, with a faint look of interest that almost resembled a smile.

“I’m afraid that what I mean as a compliment may sound like an insult,” said Ixion.

“Please, tell me; I want to know what you’re thinking. Whatever it is, I promise not to smite you for it.” That look- Was that- Holy Fates, was Hera flirting?

Ixion laughed and stood more at ease. “So human,” he said.

I dropped to the ground, curled into fetal position, and held my hands over my head.

But Hera only laughed with him. “Many gods would rather have a human than a goddess, it seems, so I suppose I must take that as a compliment.”

“I can’t imagine someone having you and ever wanting anyone else,” said Ixion.

“You’re very kind,” said Hera. “Dia was a fortunate woman.”

“I was a fortunate man while I had her,” said Ixion. “And I must still be charmed by the Fates to have the favor of the Lady Hera. Not to imply that your favor toward me is the same as Dia’s. Rather, the favor of a benevolent queen toward a humble and grateful subject.”

“Are those the only kinds?” said Hera. “Can’t it be the favor of a person who needed a friend and found one in an unlikely place?”

Oh, who in freakin’ Tartarus were they kidding?

“I’m honored to be called your friend, My Lady,” said Ixion.

“Would you call me one, I wonder?” Hera mused. “If you’d never known who I was? If I were just the woman you found beside your bride’s dead body?”

“If I’d still come to know you as I know you now, yes, I believe I would,” said Ixion.

And by “know,” did he mean…?

“Then, would you do something for me?” asked Hera.

“Anything, My Lady,” said Ixion.

“Stop calling me ‘My Lady’. Call me by my own name. At least when we’re alone.”

And how often did that happen, exactly?

“Hera.” Ixion spoke the name with both hesitation and resolve. The hesitation didn’t seem to be from fear so much as from the knowledge that he was doing something inappropriate and improper. I could see a crack appearing in the dam that held back his feelings. “Hera,” he said her name again, with both more and less ease this time, “what are we doing?”

“Meeting. Standing. Talking.” She forced a laugh. “Why, what do mortals call this?”

“A dangerous thing for an honorable man and a married woman.”

Hera’s burning austerity returned. “You and I have known each other for over a year,” she said. “In that time, have I ever offered you my body or asked for yours? I wouldn’t have to ask, you know. I could come to you in another form the way my husband did to your bride. I could put you in an enchanted sleep and have my way with you. Or if I wanted you to be awake, moving, feeling, moaning, crying my name, that could happen, too. Have I done any of this?”

“Of course not,” he said. “You wouldn’t.”

“Well, I wouldn’t betray my marriage, either,” she said. “Although I seem to be the only one in the Pantheon who possesses this rare mystical power, I am quite capable of keeping my loins girded.”

“As am I.”

“Well then, why even mention it?”

“I feel a man and a woman in our situation can’t be too careful, that’s all,” said Ixion.

“Do you know what my situation is?” said Hera. “My situation is that my husband won’t harm you because he’d lose face with Poseidon, but when you say a pleasant word to me, show me any kindness, even look approvingly in my general direction, he takes it out on me.”

“What do you mean?” Ixion asked, his voice full of the same concern that he’d shown the night they met.

“I mean you already know far more than you need to,” said Hera. “My point is that I take pleasure in your company, but if we were to keep company in the open, it would bring me more pain – literal, physical pain – than you could survive.”

“The more reason for us to be careful, then,” said Ixion.

“Which is what I’m doing,” said Hera. “And what I’m trying to explain to you. If we’re to keep company, we have to do it alone.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer for you if we didn’t keep company at all?” Ixion said, unhappy at the prospect but resolute in acting in Hera’s best interest.

“I’ve been denied the love of a husband longer than I care to remember,” said Hera. “I won’t be denied the love of a friend, too, as long as my friend is willing to give it.”

Ixion held his own hand in an obvious effort to keep it from reaching for Hera’s. “As long as I live,” he said, “whatever love I can give you with honor is yours.”

“How long do you want that to be?” she asked.

“No shorter than it has to be,” he said. “Is that a warning, a threat, or idle conversation?”

“An offer,” said Hera. “I can make you immortal. You’d always be as you are now. You’d never know old age or infirmity. You’d never have to leave anyone the way Dia left you. You don’t have to decide tonight, but please tell me you’ll consider it.”

“I’d be a fool not to consider it,” said Ixion, duly overwhelmed by Hera’s offer. “Does your husband know?”

“I don’t need his permission,” said Hera. “I’m a Daughter of the Titans. His equal in power and in rank. If I want to bestow blessings or curses upon my subjects, it’s my choice to make, not his.”

“What would I owe you in return?” he asked.

“Nothing at all.”

“I’ll give it some thought.”

“So,” Hera said with an unnatural nonchalance, “what did you think of the Games?”

“These were some of the best,” he said. “I’ve been to every one since I was a child. May I ask you something?”

“I may not answer, but I won’t punish you for asking,” she said.

“The origin story of the Pythian Games,” he said. “Is there more to it than we’ve heard?”

“You mean are there some extenuating circumstances that cast me as a maligned victim rather than a vindictive cuckold?” Hera said with a hint of bitter amusement. “There aren’t. Did you know Leto was Zeus’ first choice for queen?”

“I didn’t,” said Ixion. I hadn’t known that myself. I wondered if Apollo had kept this information from me by royal decree, or if he didn’t know, either.

“Few people do, and I prefer it that way,” said Hera. “She turned him down. Thought she was too good to be Queen of Olympus, but not too good to be the King’s whore after we were married. Leto did things for my husband that I never would, and I hated her for it. I still hate her children for being more loved by gods and mortals alike than mine. Since their earliest childhood, her twins have been so maddeningly beautiful. I don’t know whether I hate them more for looking like Leto or for looking like Zeus.

“I did, in fact, send a giant python after Leto. Because I could. She couldn’t be killed, of course, but I’d hoped to poison her at least, to cripple her somehow, something to make her less capable and less desirable. I couldn’t even accomplish that. Her goddamned son killed the Python before it ever reached her, and the mortals love him and hate me for the whole incident. That’s what really happened.”

After a moment of contemplative silence, Ixion said, “I think I can sympathize. Dia had these…fantasies? Desires? I don’t quite know what to call them.”

“Perversions?” said Hera.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Ixion. “But whatever they were, I didn’t share them. I did my best to accommodate them because I wanted to please her, but I could only take it so far. I always wondered whether she was really satisfied with me. It’s my understanding that Zeus…when he…that he fully accommodated her. It’s beyond unfair to be jealous of any part of Zeus’ crimes against Dia, crimes that culminated in murder, but if I were to be perfectly honest, I’d have to say that jealousy is among the many and varied feelings I have over the whole scenario.”

“The murder was my crime,” said Hera.

“You don’t have to defend him,” said Ixion.

“I’m not,” said Hera. “If I hadn’t shown up, he’d have had his way with her and left. He may have come back, or he may have gotten bored with her and moved on to the next temptation. We’ll never know. In any case, it’s almost certain that, if I hadn’t come, Dia would now be your wife and you would be none the wiser.”

“I won’t let you blame yourself,” said Ixion. “Even if Zeus did kill her because you showed up, it was still his choice and his action.”

“Don’t do this,” said Hera. “Stop trying to make me better than I am. I killed Dia. Dia died by my hand. It is because of my actions that she is dead. Do you understand that? Do you care for the Hera that is, or for a paragon of virtue that exists only in your mind?”

“How am I supposed to know what happened if you’ve never told me?” said Ixion.

“You were in mourning,” said Hera. “I wanted to respect that.”

“It’s been long enough,” said Ixion. “Tell me.”

“I struck her,” said Hera. “My magic isn’t nearly as powerful as one of Zeus’ lightning bolts, but it’s strong enough to give a god injury and pain. I aimed a blow at him, he dodged, and Dia was left in the line of fire. She died instantly.”

“That’s not murder,” said Ixion.

“It was killing,” said Hera. “Intent doesn’t change the outcome. What else do you want to absolve me of? My son’s limp? I really did that, too. I threw my own baby off Mount Olympus. That happened. Of course I wasn’t trying to cripple him. I honestly can’t say what the intent was in that moment, or whether there was any intent or coherent thought at all. It was such an overwhelming, incoherent tangle of emotion. This visceral sense that I had to get that screaming, useless thing away from me or I’d go even more mad than I already was. I was nursing him on a balcony. There was no thought. No deliberation. I just threw him. And now he’ll be crippled for eternity. That medical genius he married can’t even fix him. My lack of intent won’t change that.”

“I never asked about your son’s injury,” said Ixion. “I don’t know what to say, except that it seems you’re trying your best to make me hate you, and it isn’t working. I doubt you asked me here to tell me all the reasons I should be terrified of you. Isn’t there anything else you’d rather speak of?”

“How about if we don’t speak?” said Hera.

“That would suit me,” he replied with calm sincerity.

Hera reached out for his hand. He gave it. They stood side by side, facing ahead rather than toward each other, keeping a reasonable width between them. The ensuing silence was comfortable and amiable for them, but boring for me.

Until suddenly, a wild Aphrodite appeared. “Hey, slut!” she grinned. Hera dropped Ixion’s hand like a hot coal. Aphrodite wrung her own hands in delight. Ixion clearly couldn’t see the second goddess.

“This is completely innocent,” said Hera.

“Of course it is,” Ixion said in a reassuring tone. Man, did that guy have a White Knight thing going on.

“If it were innocent, I wouldn’t be here,” Aphrodite exulted. “The sexual tension here was so high, I just had to see who was generating it and if I could help resolve it. You know what this means, don’t you? You are never allowed to call me a whore again,” she laughed.

“Excuse me for a moment. Please don’t leave,” Hera said to Ixion, after which I presume she went invisible to him. “I’ll call you whatever I happen to think is fitting,” she said to Aphrodite.

“Will you, now? Let’s look at your file and see what would be fitting for a married woman who can’t keep her mind and who knows what else off her husband’s honored guest.” Aphrodite waved her hand. A scroll the size of a small tree trunk hung in midair. Hera disintegrated it. “Good thing that was a decoy,” Aphrodite gloated. “That’s okay. You’ve told me everything I need to know.”

“I haven’t done anything,” said Hera.

“Ohhh, but you’ve thought it,” said Aphrodite. “You’re thinking it right now. So is he. The tension between you two is almost tangible to me. I could snap my fingers and you’d both instantly lose the silly reservations that are keeping you apart.”

Hera leapt forward and grabbed Aphrodite’s hands. “Don’t. Even. Think about it.”

“But it would be the greatest, most benevolent act of my entire career,” Aphrodite pouted. “Would you like to see my ‘Hera Needs To Get Laid’ petition? I’m not sure the Amphitheater’s long enough to unroll the whole thing, but you’d get the idea.”

“You will not cast any spells. You will not speak of this to anyone, including me, again. You will not, for any intents and purposes, remember any of this after you leave, which you will do now,” Hera ordered.

“And why will I not do or do any of that?”

Hera sighed. “What do you want?”

“I want you to give Amphitrite that divorce,” said Aphrodite.

“What does that matter to you?” said Hera. “You’re the one who made her fall in love with Poseidon in the first place.”

“He wouldn’t back off, the marriage seemed inevitable, and it felt like the least I could do,” said Aphrodite. “But now he wants to let her go, and I want you to let him.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Hera. “Why didn’t you neutralize Poseidon’s desire in the first place?”

“She was a virgin,” said Aphrodite, “and I was getting sick of it. I knew from experience that Poseidon was great in bed. Especially underwater. You should try that sometime. Anyway, I thought she’d eventually fall in love with him for real or at least start liking sex for real. As it turned out, neither one of those happened. But let’s get back to you and your mortal boy toy. Would you like me to send you to a private seaside resort? I’ll keep Zeus distracted. He’ll never know you were gone.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Hera.

“Suit yourself,” Aphrodite shrugged. “Keep playing the perfect marriage goddess with Zeus and being ‘friends’ with your little pet alone at night in the shadows of an abandoned theater. But if you want to keep that friendship a secret, there’s more that you’ll have to do.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll start being a lot nicer to me,” said Aphrodite. “You’ll STFU about me divorcing your son. You’ll stop freezing me out of your clique. You’ll never again call me any name that implies there’s anything wrong with the proud and noble profession of sex work. You’ll never again speak to me in a disparaging way of any kind. In short, you’ll be my bitch.”

“Hypocritical much?” said Hera.

“Take it or leave it,” said Aphrodite.

“I’ll take it,” Hera conceded in desperation as much as in anger. “Now, go. Tell Amphitrite that I’ve yet again authorized the blasphemy of my sacred institution.”

“Ah, ah, ah!”

“That was about her divorce, not yours,” said Hera. “Go.”

Aphrodite obeyed. Almost. She made a quick detour to stage-whisper in Ixion’s oblivious ear, “She wants to nail you.” Then she teleported away before Hera’s hand could collide with her face.

Hera made herself visible to Ixion again. “All taken care of,” she said. But she kept her hands to herself.

“What happened?” Ixion asked. “Is everything all right?”

“It will be in a moment,” said Hera. She waved her hand. She and Ixion morphed into a middle-aged human couple that bore no resemblance to their real forms. Ixion looked at his changed form with some discomfort. “I should have done this from the beginning,” said Hera. She brushed a stray lock of grey hair out of her face. “If anyone else finds us, there’s no way they’ll recognize us. I hate shapeshifting, though.”

“But Leto didn’t?” said Ixion. “That’s how the tale goes, anyway.”

“I don’t know whether she liked it. I can’t say I care either way,” said Hera. “The fact is, she did it.” Hera was silent for a moment. Then she laughed. “Quail,” she said. “Honestly…quail? Who does that? Who even thinks of that?”

“I can’t imagine,” Ixion said with an apprehensive laugh. “Then again, as I said, I never understood Dia’s horse fantasy, either.”

“Is it really so dull for two people to come together as themselves?” said Hera. “No pretense, no artifice, no theatrics, just a husband and wife uniting their bodies to reflect the union of their souls?”

“Yes, when did that fall out of fashion?”

“I’m well over a thousand years old,” said Hera. “I don’t think it was ever in fashion. Even among my disciples.”

“I’ve worshiped at your altar since my youth,” said Ixion, “and for what little this is worth, it sounds perfect to me.”

Holy Fates, Hera, just take him already! I wanted to scream. But she didn’t, as I knew she wouldn’t.

Where was this thing headed? If they really believed they were just friends, they were shoveling more crap than the Augean stablehands, but I actually found it entirely plausible that they weren’t doing anything physical and that they both had the capacity to keep it that way. Would anyone else believe it? Aphrodite didn’t. And while Hera believed Aphrodite was the only one who knew, I knew she was wrong on at least one count. She had been pretty stupid to meet Ixion in her own form, even in such a secluded meeting place. How many other times had she been this stupid? With as many frenemies and enemies as Hera had at court, it was only a matter of time before this got back to Zeus. What would happen then? What if that was what Beroe saw? What if the thought of Hera cheating on him with a mortal would drive Zeus to create a new weapon that could actually kill her?

And if he had the power to kill a child of the Titans, what would that mean for the rest of us? What about the Furies? Could they fight back? Did they need all three for their powers to work? Would Amphitrite remember she was a Fury now that the love spell was broken? Could we resurrect Adonis without getting in too much trouble with Hades and Persephone? Good grief, was I actually wanting to bring back that little blond bitch?

The horror of this thought shocked me back into the present. Where I remembered a party was going on. A party to which I had been invited. A party with wine and dancing and wine and beautiful men and wine and food and wine. Screw court intrigue. Screw Hera. Screw the Furies. Screw Adonis. Screw anyone screwing Adonis. I had come to party, and that’s what I was going to do.

mask.stock

3.4 I Wish To Go To The Festival

Like I said, for the next year, there just wasn’t anything exciting going on. No epic romances, no major conflict aside from the usual stuff, and best of all, no Fates. The Fates seemed to have forgotten about me as much as Athena seemed to have forgotten about her vow to strike against Zeus. Persephone came at the Spring Equinox and immediately announced plans to stay until the Autumnal Equinox. She didn’t make any effort to meet her granddaughter, who was still living at the Helicon Museum with Artemis and Athena. Aphrodite, who moved back to Olympus about a month after Persephone came, never made any effort to introduce them. I imagined a meeting at the Pythian Games would be inevitable.

Instead, the Pythian Games came and went completely without incident. Beroe didn’t attend at all, despite being crazy about sports. Polyhymnia won the Muse trophy, beating out a great showing by Eustachys & Co. in the comedy division. This year all the performances were actually composed without direct intervention from any of the gods or goddesses.

The closing ceremonies had a surprise guest appearance from Poseidon and Amphitrite. They had never come to the Games before. We all suspected this appearance had something to do with Zeus’ monologue at the last Games two years earlier. But Poseidon and Amphitrite were all smiles and congeniality with Zeus, Hera, and the rest of the Olympians. We made a last-minute adjustment to the ceremonies so they could appear to the mortals along with the Twelve. It went off without a hitch. The mortals were thrilled, the gods were satisfied, and none of us could wait to get the after-party started in Dionysus’ Tent.

I entered with Apollo and Calliope. The tent was filled with gods, goddesses, satyrs, nymphs, centaurs, and dozens of other inhuman creatures. Some were on the spacious dance floor reveling in the driving music and the flashing, colorful lights. Others were helping themselves at a fountain of wine, and still more were feasting from the buffet table. Here and there, circles of cushions were veiled by velvet curtains that hung from the ceiling. I noticed Artemis and Athena, who had been quietly celebrating their second anniversary all week, betake themselves to one of these secluded spots. I gave myself a mental high-five.

But no such hiding away for me tonight. I was here for the party.

Apollo, who must’ve read my mind, said, “Now, please remember that as the hosts of the Pythian Games, we have a certain-”

“No,” I cut him off. “We may be the hosts of the Games, but the Games are over. And for the first time in over four years, we got through the whole damn thing without a catastrophe of any kind. So I don’t know about you guys, but tonight Imma get my Dionysian on. The first person who says ‘Nothing in excess’ gets smacked upside his blond, laurel-crowned head.”

Apollo looked over at Calliope. “Nothing in excess,” Calliope said.

“Nothing in excess,” he repeated.

I smacked them both simultaneously.

Dionysus came to greet us with a Maenad at each arm. He was dressed in full drag – a slinky golden gown, a waist-length brunette hairdo that was making me envious, and bold, glittery makeup that amped his androgynous hawtness up to eleven. The two Maenads looked typical of their ranks. Their long hair, wild and bushy from the wind and sun in Dionysus’ woods, was strewn with bits of bracken. Tiny haphazard patches of leaves and leather blurred the lines of technical nudity. A primal, manic look in their eyes promised a contact high to anyone who accepted their embrace.

“Nothing in excess,” I said to Apollo in a teasing whisper. His secret Maenad fantasies were no secret to me. And why should I be bothered by these fantasies? Petty jealousy and angst over Apollo’s crushes were a thing of the past. Apollo was my friend. That was all he was and all he was ever going to be. If he was determined to live his life chasing one heartbreak after another for all eternity, why should I let that affect our friendship?

“It could be argued that complete abstinence is a form of excess,” Apollo whispered back, a little guilty and embarrassed but far from repulsed.

Dionysus addressed Apollo. “I see you’re letting the Muses out to play for once. Care for a trade?”

My indignation at basically being called Apollo’s property could not be overstated. However, as far as I’m concerned, indignation can always be overridden with lulz. So I said, “Of course he does. Apollo, don’t you want to play with the nice ladies?” One of the Maenads bared her pointed teeth and licked her lips. The other curled a sharp fingernail in a beckoning motion. Apollo’s face told me I wasn’t helping anything, which meant my mission was accomplished.

“Actually, we were just leaving,” Calliope said in her best Big Sister voice. She put an arm around Apollo and hurried him away toward the buffet table. I stood and laughed, still undecided as to what I wanted to do first.

Dionysus caught my hand. The Maenads were already gone in search of new prey. “Looks like we’ve both been deserted,” he mourned. “We’d best stick together. There’s nothing sadder than being alone at a party.”

“Sometimes it’s fun,” I said. “I do it on purpose.”

“And they say I’m crazy,” he laughed, the smell of alcohol already wafting from his breath. “Can I tell you a secret, darling? You were always my favorite Muse.”

“What’s my name?” I asked him, more amused than irritated since my new escort seemed harmless enough for the moment.

“Polyhymnia?” he guessed.

“Close enough.”

“Wait, never mind.” He dropped my hand. I was a bit insulted. Not at all surprised, though. Who stood a chance at being noticed once Aphrodite had entered the room?

I followed Dionysus. Ordinarily, an encounter between him and Aphrodite wouldn’t hold much interest to me. But, unexpectedly, Beroe had accompanied her. Yay! Keeping a headstrong demigoddess safe and alive was exactly how I’d planned to spend the night!

There was no opportunity to hope Beroe wouldn’t make a scene. She and Aphrodite were already fighting over her appearance. Beroe’s acetic, utilitarian hunter’s chiton revealed her muscular legs, which were flocked with downy golden hair. Aphrodite kept snapping her fingers to render Beroe’s legs smooth, and Beroe kept snapping hers to put the hair back. Aphrodite tried distracting Beroe by snapping her cropped, unkempt, platinum hair into a long, elaborate updo. Beroe snapped it back even shorter and messier. Beroe’s preferred aesthetic wasn’t my style, but it was definitely hers, and I had to love her insistence on rocking it.

Dionysus met them. I hoped Beroe would teleport out as soon as her mom was sufficiently distracted. Surely she wasn’t here of her own accord. Parties weren’t her thing.

“Hey,” Aphrodite briefly acknowledged Dionysus. “Ares is here somewhere, so you’ll have to get in line.”

“As it happens, dearest,” Dionysus said to Aphrodite, “you weren’t the list of my voyage. Won’t you introduce me to your lovely companion?” Yay! I could see now that he had that same stupid captivated look that everyone used to have around Adonis. Aphrodite tended to evoke the same thing, of course, but it wasn’t as noticeable since we were used to her. More to the point, Aphrodite was completely immortal, and Athena hadn’t tasked me with keeping her alive.

“Beroe,” said Aphrodite, “this is Dionysus. He’s really very handsome when he’s dressed as a man.”

“Hey, that’s the same thing the huntresses say about me,” said Beroe as she took Dionysus’ hand and gave it a firm shake. “We’ve probably met before, though, at Ixion’s feast?”

“Who?” said Dionysus.

“The mortal who’s been living at court for the last year?” Aphrodite reminded him. “He’s been at the Games all week.”

“There’s been a mortal at court?” said Dionysus.

“You were at the meeting where the Twelve decided what to do about him,” I said.

“Nope, not ringing a bell,” Dionysus said.

“Oh, there’s Ares,” said Aphrodite. “Keep an eye on Beroe, will you?” she said to me.

“Sure,” I said. Why not? I totally hadn’t come here to party. Why would I want to eat, dance, or get hammered when I could spend the whole night babysitting a fully-armed grown woman who could easily take me in a fight?

“I guess you don’t remember me, either, then,” Beroe was saying to Dionysus. “I was the baby who freaked everyone out.”

“Did you used to have wings?”

“That’d be my brother,” said Beroe. “Look, is there someplace we could talk?”

Wait, what? Dionysus was the last person I’d have expected Beroe to voluntarily interact with. Maybe she needed a babysitter after all.

“Of course, love,” said Dionysus. “If you’ll join me behind one of these curtains-”

“I get claustrophobic,” Beroe cut him off. “And I really meant ‘talk’.”

“I’m afraid the curtains are our best option for privacy here. Fancy a tryst in the woods?” Dionysus invited with a come-hither smolder.

“Do you understand that I don’t want to engage in sexual activity of any kind tonight, with you or anyone else?” said Beroe.

“Can’t say that I do,” said Dionysus. “Won’t you have a drink first?”

“Don’t take the drink,” I advised.

“Wasn’t planning on it,” Beroe sighed. “Forget it, you’re not lucid enough to have a serious conversation anyway.”

“I should hope not,” he laughed. “Serious conversations are the very worst kind.”

“Is he like this all the time?” Beroe asked me, thoroughly disgusted.

“You’ve caught him at one of his better moments,” I said.

A trumpet fanfare outside the tent interrupted our so-called conversation. We stepped aside and cleared the entrance. I guessed Zeus and Hera were coming.

The herald not only confirmed my guess, but announced Poseidon and Amphitrite as well. I moved to block Beroe from the two kings’ views. She was a little taller than me, so I snapped my hair a few inches higher just to be on the safe side. Zeus made it past us without noticing her. He was quickly distracted by a quartet of Maenads holding back a curtain and beckoning him thereunto.

But Beroe wasn’t one to stay hidden. “Will you cut it out?” she said as she shoved me aside. Have I mentioned Beroe was ridiculously strong? “I know what you’re doing, and I don’t need it. I’m not a goddamn kid anymore.”

“You certainly are not.”

Poseidon had noticed Beroe after all. There was That Look. That bizarre, unnatural obsession. And there was Amphitrite clinging to his arm, thinking how long it had been since he’d had the same obsession for her.

“Screw off,” said Beroe. “I don’t even know you.”

“I’d like to change that,” said Poseidon. He reached for Beroe’s hand. Then he cried out as Beroe quickly and cleanly broke his thumb.

“I said screw off,” she scowled.

“That’s going to be difficult now,” I said.

“What’s your name?” Poseidon asked.

“Sir,” said Dionysus, “The lady is with me. If you want her, you’ll have to take me, too.”

“Oh, go back to your wine cellar or your pole,” Poseidon dismissed him.

I ran through a mental list of people I could summon for help. Calliope? No, she was all brains and no brawn, and Poseidon wasn’t known for listening to reason. Athena? No, she and Poseidon were rivals from way back. He was convinced Athens should be his city-state since it was on the coast, and Athena had claimed it from its conception. He’d likely become even more determined in his advances just to spite her. Artemis? No, that’d turn into a full-blown fight in about half a second, and the last thing Artemis needed was another spectacle in which she might possibly be overpowered. Apollo? No. Just no. Beroe was practically his own daughter as far as he was concerned, and, no, no, no. Everyone I could think of was either not powerful enough or too likely to create a major inter-realm incident. I didn’t want to be indirectly responsible for a war between the Ocean Realm and Olympus.

Then I remembered. Someone at these Games, someone I hadn’t spent nearly enough time with this summer, wasn’t from Olympus.

Persephone appeared beside me in silent answer to my summons. Her chilling aura instantly created an arm’s-length circle of space all around her. “Well, how about that,” she said. “Rulers of the Three Realms all in the same place at the same time. Do you even remember the last time this happened?”

“Has Hades come with you this year, then?” Poseidon replied.

“Unfortunately, no,” said Persephone. “It must be nice to have so little work that both of you can leave your kingdom at the same time.”

“Our son Triton can handle it while I’m away,” said Poseidon.

“When he’s at home, too,” I said in a stage whisper. Beroe and Dionysus were amused, but the royals ignored me. “I lived at their court for awhile. You two remember that, don’t you? Before Galateia? Good times.”

Amphitrite gave me a soft smile and a subtle nod, but Poseidon didn’t even seem to notice I was talking. He kept his eye on Beroe and continued addressing Persephone, the only obstacle he was perceiving. “I think I heard you and Hades had a son a couple of years ago?” he said. “Allow me to offer belated congratulations.”

The ground trembled below the tent for a brief moment. If anyone outside our immediate vicinity felt it at all, they probably thought it was from the drums and the pounding feet and hooves on the dance floor. Persephone regained control and said, “Condolences would be more appropriate. Our son was a demigod, adopted, killed before he’d finished his growing year. But not before he left behind a child.” She turned to Beroe. “This, I suppose, is her?” she asked me.

“You’re Persephone,” Beroe answered for herself, her demeanor as cold as her grandmother’s. “Nice to finally meet you. You’re afraid of watching me die, like my father, aren’t you?” Well, that escalated quickly.

“I don’t know,” said Persephone. “Do you plan to get yourself killed the way your father did?”

“If you mean did I plan on becoming the center of a pansexual love dodecahedron, that was pretty low on my list of things to do, right after shoving rust splinters into my eyelids,” said Beroe.

Dionysus interjected, “Actually, that can be quite erotic after you’ve taken-”

“Stop talking,” said Beroe.

“Ah, so she’s your granddaughter,” said Poseidon. “I can see the resemblance in manner if not in looks. Are you her guardian?”

“Screw guardians,” said Beroe. “I’m a friggin’ adult. I belong to myself.”

“Then, legally, you belong to Zeus,” Poseidon surmised.

“Her mother is Aphrodite,” I spoke up.

“Aphrodite of the Seafoam?” said Poseidon. “Perhaps your destiny lies in your mother’s origin.”

“You have no idea,” said Beroe.

“Look,” said Dionysus, “I’ll thank you to stop harassing my future wife. Unless, my love, you’d like him to join us?”

“Your future wife? Are you insane?” said Beroe. “You just met me.”

Your future wife?” Poseidon laughed. “I’m the King of the Ocean Realm, and you’re, what, Zeus’ fool? Courtesan? What could you offer for Beroe’s hand to compare with half my kingdom?”

“I’m Zeus’ fool,” I corrected His Royal Bitchiness, though he continued to ignore me.

“Here we go again,” Persephone facepalmed. She produced a small dagger and handed it to Beroe. “Take this and get it over with.”

“Tempting,” said Beroe. “Let’s get something completely, indisputably clear: I AM NOT MARRYING EITHER ONE OF YOU. You,” she said to Dionysus “are not making a great first impression, and you,” she said to Poseidon, “are already friggin’ married. To her. To that woman right next to you.”

“I’ll get a divorce,” said Poseidon.

“You can’t mean that!” Amphitrite spoke for the first time.

“I’d be more than happy to make it a foursome,” Dionysus offered.

“No!” said Beroe. “Not you and me, not him and me, not you and him and me, not you and me and him and her, not me and ANYONE! What part of this don’t you two get?”

“So you need a bit of time to think?” said Dionysus.

“Eros!” Beroe yelled.

Eros was there in a flash. “Everything ok here?” he asked as he hovered over our heads with his bow at the ready.

“These idiots need a little help figuring out I’m not interested,” said Beroe.

“Two lead arrows, coming right up,” he replied. Before either Poseidon or Dionysus could react, Eros fitted two lead arrows to his bow and put one in each god’s heart. They never took their eyes off Beroe. They should have lost interest immediately and gone on with their lives.

But both gods ripped the arrows out and seemed completely unaffected.

“Wow,” said Eros.

“Wow?” Beroe repeated. “That’s all you have to say?”

“Hang on,” said Eros. He took a deep breath and affected a look of what passed for concentration coming from him. “So, you guys,” he said, “how ’bout those Maenads? I’m telling you, if I weren’t an old married man-”

“Fly away before someone gets a flyswatter,” Poseidon brushed him off.

“Make yourself useful and summon your mother,” said Dionysus. “The sooner we can start the wedding arrangements, the better.”

“Dude, Beroe already said no,” said Eros. “There’s not going to be any wedding.”

“Thank you,” said Beroe. “Apparently the frequency of my voice can still be detected by male ears.”

“Name your sister’s bride price,” said Poseidon. “I’ll give anything, even half my kingdom.”

“Half?” Dionysus scoffed. “Beroe, my love, once you’re mine, all the vineyards and forests and Maenads and satyrs in all of Greece will be yours, not to mention my own vine and grapes.”

“I’m a teetotaler,” said Beroe. “Good grief, have you ever just had a normal conversation with a woman? With anyone?”

“Hey,” Eros said to Dionysus. “She. Said. No. And you,” he said to Poseidon, “can you and your wife look at each other for a second? Just one second.”

“What, so you can distract me with one of your golden arrows?” said Poseidon. “You’re welcome to try,” he turned toward Amphitrite, “but I’m afraid my heart has been inextricably given to your sister.”

“Give him time,” said Amphitrite, her eyes full of heartbreak. “His obsession will die as soon as yours appears.”

I had some doubts about the validity of this plan. If Beroe’s passive powers could negate the lead arrows, there was a chance she could overpower the gold arrows, too. But instead of a gold arrow, Eros fit another lead one to his bow. It was embedded in Amphitrite’s heart in the blink of an eye.

Amphitrite blinked. She swayed. I caught her and pulled the arrow out. “It’s okay,” I soothed her. “Take a moment.” In my experience, the lead arrows weren’t necessarily that disorienting, but Amphitrite was rumored to have been under a love spell for all the long centuries she and Poseidon had been together.

Eros took advantage of the distraction and grabbed Beroe’s hand. The two of them teleported away. Dionysus ran out of the tent, though I doubted he had any idea where he was going.

“Do you know your name?” I asked the goddess in my arms.

“Mm…,” she said slowly. “Megae- no, that’s not- Amphitrite? I don’t know.”

Persephone started at this. “You’ve had quite a shock,” she said, taking Amphitrite’s other side. “I think you should lie down. My quarters are nice and quiet. Why don’t you come with me?”

“Oh, Fates!” Amphitrite screamed. “Hera! Hera, please help me!”

Hera appeared. Thankfully, Zeus wasn’t with her. The Maenads must’ve had him pretty distracted. “What?” she said, in as pleasant a mood as one might imagine.

“Hera, My Lady,” Amphitrite fell at her feet in tears, “please, I beg you, release me from my vows. I did not swear to them of my own accord. Surely you won’t hold me to a covenant made under duress.”

“I officiated your wedding,” said Hera. “You didn’t seem particularly duressed to me.” She threw a quick, impatient glance at the exit.

“But I don’t love him!” Amphitrite wept. “And for the longest time, he hasn’t loved me either.”

“It’s true,” said Poseidon. “I have chosen a new queen. We beseech you, Hera, release us from our vows.”

“Why should I care how you two feel about each other?” Hera growled. “What does it matter what anyone feels about anything? Do you think I love my husband all the time? Does anyone in existence still believe he loves me any of the time? What does it matter? We never vowed to love each other. We vowed to take each other and to create a home and a family with honor, and that is what we have done, and what you have done. But evidently none of that means anything to anyone except me anymore!”

“Hera,” said Poseidon, “I will leave Amphitrite and take a new queen. All you’re deciding is whether I do so with honor.”

“Honor?” Hera repeated. “How can you look the Goddess of Marriage in the eye and say such a thing? How can there be any honor in pledging yourself to one person and leaving them for another?”

“If the Goddess of Marriage will be no help,” said Poseidon, “perhaps the Goddess of Love will.”

Aphrodite appeared on the scene. “This had better be important,” she said. “I wasn’t finished yet.”

“This is all your fault,” Hera snarled at her.

“Oh, no, trust me,” said Aphrodite, “it was your son’s fault.” I knew she meant Ares, but Hera’s mind wasn’t really in the moment, thus her reply.

“My son did nothing but stand by his vows regardless of how you made him feel,” Hera said, “while you indulged your every fleeting lust. If you could’ve been faithful to him at all, if you could’ve at least let him pretend that you wanted him, even a little, maybe you two wouldn’t have set a precedent for even the gods themselves blaspheming my sacred rite!”

“Bitch, I meant the other son,” said Aphrodite. “And don’t hate on me for having enough sense to get out of a dead marriage just because you can’t.”

“A marriage doesn’t die until someone executes it,” said Hera. “I won’t let it happen again.”

“Can we get to the part that has anything to do with me?” said Aphrodite. “Or was I just summoned for a round of Yell About Crap That Happened Four Years Ago? Because, believe me, I’ve got some great moves for that one.”

“I want to marry your daughter,” said Poseidon.

“Beroe?” said Aphrodite. “Where is she?”

“Eros took her,” I said. “And Beroe already turned him down.”

“That settles it, then,” said Aphrodite. “My daughter isn’t marrying anyone she doesn’t love. Of course, it’s a little embarrassing that she’s almost a year and a half and she’s still a virgin, but she hasn’t wanted anyone yet, and I’m not going to change her mind for her.”

“Everyone knows you bewitched my first wife,” said Poseidon. “You did it once; you can do it again.”

“Don’t,” said Amphitrite. Aphrodite didn’t say a word, but I could tell she realized her love spell had been broken.

“I’ll catch you up later,” I whispered.

“I’m not casting any love spells on anyone tonight,” said Aphrodite, “and I will raze Olympus to the ground before I let what happened to me happen to my daughter!”

I snapped up a box of popcorn.

“What, marriage to a good, faithful man?” said Hera. “I could think of worse fates.”

You would battle Poseidon Earthshaker?” Poseidon laughed.

“I would exercise my right as Beroe’s guardian, and you would have no choice but to accept my judgment,” said Aphrodite.

“Keep in mind, you can only forbid me from marrying her,” said Poseidon. “I can still make her my wife in deed if not in name.”

“I’m the Goddess of Sex, you idiot,” said Aphrodite. “I can keep you from that, too; with Beroe or anyone else ever.”

Hera left in silent disgust and frustration at the whole scene. Persephone whispered something to Amphitrite, who whispered something back, and they teleported away together, too.

I decided it was best to keep everyone’s attention away from these disappearances. “Don’t forget, Dionysus put in a bid, too,” I reminded Poseidon. “You really want to risk eternity without sex or booze?”

“Dionysus?” said Aphrodite. “Does she like him? Please say yes. I would never want her to be with anyone she didn’t want, of course, but good grief, if she’s still a virgin by her second birthday, I’m going to slit my wrists.”

“You and Dionysus have a kid together,” I reminded her.

“That was literally ages ago, and you know I gave that baby up as soon he was born,” said Aphrodite. “If I ruled out every god I’d slept with, that’d pretty much just leave Apollo, and he doesn’t count because he thinks he’s the mother.” She laughed. “Could you imagine how pissed he’d be if Beroe ended up with Dionysus?”

I had to admit, it would be hilarious. Now that I thought of it, Beroe had seemed awfully intent on getting acquainted with Dionysus. And they had so much in common. They both liked dressing in drag, they both practically lived in the woods, they both…um…hm…well, time would tell. “I got the impression that Dionysus was the whole reason Beroe came to the party tonight,” I told Aphrodite. Hey, it was true. “She was really insistent on talking to him. She kept wanting to go somewhere they could be alone together, but Eros took her away before they got the chance. I think they’re at Helicon now.”

“Would you resign your daughter to be Chief Maenad when she could be Queen of the Oceans?” said Poseidon.

“I want my daughter to be with whoever pleases her most at any given moment,” said Aphrodite. “And I’m going to talk to her and find out who that is.”

“I’ll wait,” said Poseidon.

Aphrodite disappeared. I figured it wasn’t a great time to be left alone with Poseidon, so I took my popcorn and skittered off to the sidelines. What to do now? Go to Helicon and see what was up with the love gods? Look in on Persephone and Amphitrite? See where Dionysus or Hera had gotten to? I decided to go after the subject most likely to entertain me and least likely to put a curse on me or ask me to do anything.

I exited the tent in the general direction that Dionysus had taken his leave. I was well into the grounds before I saw him, now back in his regular clothes, leaning against the Amphitheater in conversation with Pan. Both of their backs were to me, so I quickly put on my Helmet of Darkness and got close enough to eavesdrop.

“If I were you,” Pan was saying to Dionysus, “I’d sleep on it and see if you’re still in love with her in the morning. Or if you even remember her, for that matter.”

“You have been me, and that’s not what you did, which is why I’ve consulted you,” said Dionysus. “You got Echo to move in with you. I’ve seen some bizarre things in my life, a few of which may not have been hallucinations, but a satyr and a nymph, living together in faithful domesticity, for years, has got to be the greatest oddity of them all. What’s the trick? How did you manage?”

“I asked her,” said Pan.

“I’ve done that,” said Dionysus. “Didn’t go so well. And now I have Poseidon for competition.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be difficult,” said Pan. “The arrogant, entitled guy is the one-night stand, not the soulmate. Poseidon believes he deserves Beroe. You, my friend, need to act like you don’t.”

“But I do.” You don’t, I thought.

“I’ve met her. You don’t,” said Pan. “Look, next time you approach her, make it all about her. Tell her you know you have no business even considering being matched with such perfection, but that her irresistible beauty compelled you to give it a shot anyway. Tell her she’s more beautiful than Hera, than the Graces, than Artemis and Athena, than her mother, even!” The Graces? WTF?

“She is,” said Dionysus. Meh, love goggles.

“Meh,” said Pan. “I prefer women who look like women, but to each his own.”

“Poseidon’s offering her half his kingdom,” said Dionysus. “What do I have in comparison? I offered her my forests, vineyards, and Maenads, but she didn’t care. You think if I taught the Maenads to hunt?” I genuinely couldn’t decide whether that was a terrible idea or an awesome idea.

Pan waved a dismissive hand. “If a man has to charm a woman with his wealth, it means he’s overcompensating for something. How often was Aphrodite in bed with one of us while Hephaestus was making yet another piece of jewelry for her? Of course, that was long before Echo, whom I’m constantly having to remind that I’m not a piece of meat. Face it. Women only want us for one thing.”

“And I’ve got that thing.”

“Don’t I know it. I’d take you over Poseidon any day.”

“If Beroe would join us, I’d take you up on that.”

“And as much as we want it,” said Pan, “women want it a hundred times more.” By this point I was using my sash to muffle my unstoppable laughter. I floated a bit off the ground so they wouldn’t feel me shaking. “You just have to let Beroe know you’re hers for the taking, body and soul,” Pan concluded.

“Don’t know how to flash my soul,” said Dionysus.

“Why do you think all satyrs are musicians?” said Pan. “Nothing like a love song to put a woman in the mood.”

“So, to reiterate, I don’t deserve her, she’s beautiful, my body is hers, love song,” said Dionysus.

“That’s it. Now, I’d better get back inside. Echo’s waiting for me. Later.” Pan disappeared.

Part of me felt a moral obligation to give Dionysus some more helpful advice like “She already wanted to talk to you, so try shutting up and listening to what she had to say.” Another part of me couldn’t stop thinking of the hilarity sure to ensue if I left him to his own devices. I went with the latter part.

I headed back toward Dionysus’ Tent just in time to see Ixion slip out through one of the minor entrances, clearly trying to avoid being noticed. I’d seen him here and there during the Games, always introduced as Zeus’ honored guest. Hadn’t seen him at all tonight, though. I followed him into the mostly-deserted grounds. Where was he going? Was he trying to escape his gilded cage while all the gods were distracted? If so, why was he going further into the grounds? Into the Amphitheater, past the rows and rows of seating, past the stage, toward the tent where the performers prepared for their acts? Could he be meeting an accomplice? Or was I entirely wrong about his motives, and was he just meeting someone for a hookup? In the year that he’d been living at court, I hadn’t seen or heard of him being involved with anyone. Which made sense considering he was a recent widower and a mere mortal, albeit a hot one if you’re into the ruggedly handsome type.

I watched him slip into this small, dark, silent tent as covertly as he’d slipped out of the one that housed the party I was missing. I froze when I heard a hesitant, reserved female voice say, “I thought you weren’t coming.”

It was Hera.

mask.stock

3.3 Baby’s First Words

A feast there was. My sisters and I were all in attendance. So were all of the Twelve, as well as their spouses, lovers, and/or resident offspring. Calliope and I hadn’t told Apollo that this wouldn’t be my first time seeing Ixion. We’d decided it was better to keep my Helmet of Darkness a secret for awhile. Plus, Apollo would completely flip out if he knew how close I’d come to being involved in one of Zeus and Hera’s conflicts.

Aphrodite did bring Beroe as ordered. Beroe, now in the upper range of toddlerhood, still hadn’t spoken a word. We all hoped this trend would continue. Aphrodite had demanded and obtained her own table on the premise that this feast was to be Beroe’s big debut at court. The table was conveniently filled with people Beroe knew and liked. Eros and Euphrosyne were on either side of Aphrodite. Psyche sat by Eros, and Aglaea rounded out the circle between them. I couldn’t help noticing that this arrangement had Beroe surrounded by empaths, all of whom were capable of affecting others’ emotions as well as sensing them.

We Muses were on stage tuning our instruments. In the center of the banquet hall, Zeus sat at the head of a long table. Hera sat at his right. Their daughter Hebe stood, acting as her father’s cupbearer. To Hera’s right were Demeter, Hestia, Athena, and Artemis. To Zeus’ left was an empty seat. To its left were Ares, Apollo, Hephaestus, a blank seat reserved for Hermes, and Dionysus. Aphrodite’s table was to the right of this one. It was the same size as the other tables around the room, but hers was placed with a certain prominence that set it apart. Persephone had followed through on her compromise and gone home at Summer Solstice a few days earlier without ever having met her granddaughter.

Zeus gave us a sign. We began our introductory music. I glanced at Aphrodite’s table. Beroe was still sleeping in her mother’s arms. Zeus rose from his seat. “My brethren; my children,” he said. “One whom I will not name has accused my faithful subject of treachery, betrayal, and murder.” Poseidon. He wasn’t naming Poseidon. We all knew he meant Poseidon. “I am a just and loving ruler. I will not let such slander stand against those in my service. Today it is my pleasure to present to you a man chief among mortals for his courage, integrity, and justice; one cruelly deprived of that which was promised him.” Was it my imagination, or was the last part a jab at Hera? Had I seen a brief flash of anger in Hera’s stoic face? Had anyone else? “Gods and Goddesses of Olympus, I present to you my good and faithful servant, Ixion, King of the Lapiths!”

Ixion appeared, accompanied by Hermes, as Zeus announced his name. We met his appearance with appropriate fanfare. Ixion knelt before Zeus. All the motions were right, but I got a good look at his face. There was no doubt what he was thinking. I wondered whether he was smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself.

“Rise,” said Zeus. “Sit with me at my table.”

“Thank you, my lord Zeus,” Ixion said as he stood. “It’s not every day that a man is honored by his bride’s murderer.”

Zeus gave us a sign again. We stopped playing. The room fell silent. I told myself it was a good thing I hadn’t gotten attached to the moron.

“My lord,” said Athena as she rose from her seat, shield in hand, “I beg you to bear in mind that you are honoring this mortal as a display of your justice over Poseidon’s petty vengeance. To strike him down now would make you look foolish, and Poseidon wise and temperate by comparison.”

“Athena, wisest of my children,” said Zeus. I love how we get all proper and courtly when there are mortals around. “Never forget that I am the source of your wisdom. I have no intention of striking this man down for drawing a false conclusion. But I will correct him. Ixion, my good and faithful servant, I know not who told you that I killed your bride, but you are mistaken. In fact, my wife Hera killed her because she was jealous of her beauty and her charm. I hope you will forgive her as I have. Can you blame her? It’s a hard enough trial to spend every day surrounded by goddesses of such rare beauty,” he said as he waved his hand around the room, a room full of goddesses he’d cheated with and the sons and daughters he’d conceived with them. “How much harder must it be to have her beauty matched, nearly eclipsed, by a mortal woman such as your late Princess? Especially a mortal with such a joyful, vibrant, lusty spirit, unmatched by Hera even in her youth.”

Ixion faced Zeus, steadfast, indignant, furious. “You betray your lust for my Dia. God or no, you will not speak of her again. And you should be ashamed to speak so of your wife in her presence, before her court, before her friends. How cruel are the Fates to take one from me whom I treated as a goddess, while they leave you a goddess whom you barely treat as human.”

Silence fell once again. Until, in the blink of an eye, Euphrosyne appeared between Zeus and Ixion. She placed a hand on each one of them and smiled one of her warmest, most mirthful smiles. Eros flew after her and hovered behind Zeus’ chair. Hephaestus sat tensed with his hand on his cane.

“My Lords, look around us,” said Euphrosyne. “Everyone worked so hard to get the banquet hall ready for this feast. See those streamers? Hestia spent hours getting them just the right shades to match the palette of the Lapithian landscape. And we have the Muses themselves here to provide entertainment. You’ll never hear more wonderful music in your life. And the food! It comes from Demeter’s gardens, Dionysus’ vineyards, and Artemis’ hunting grounds. Wouldn’t it be best to forget all this talk and start feasting already?”

Zeus laughed. He seemed to have completely forgotten that a mortal had just told him to STFU. “Muses, play on!” We obeyed. “Athena may be the wisest of my children,” said Zeus, “but I believe this lady is the wisest of our court. Ixion, this is Euphrosyne, Goddess of Mirth and Merriment, daughter of Hephaestus.”

“A pleasure, My Lady,” Ixion bowed his head. He was relaxing now, too. “And this is your father, with his cane?”

Hephaestus raised a hand in silent assent.

“Mortal tales do you no kindness, Lord Hephaestus,” Ixion bowed his head again. “You are far more handsome than our poets, playwrights, and priests would have us believe. Truly, both you and your daughter favor your mother, the Lady Hera. The Fates were most kind to you in that.”

“Are you making a play for my wife or her son?” Zeus laughed. “Come now, I can’t have a mortal make a cuckold of me right before my eyes.” That had to be Euphrosyne’s effect. If Zeus seriously thought Ixion was hitting on Hera, the feast would’ve come to a swift and violent end. Instead, he was treating the idea as so far-fetched that it could only be a joke. “Hera, my dear, why don’t you introduce our other guest of honor and take the head of her table? It won’t do to leave you where this mortal can flatter you all night.”

“Can a woman such as the Lady Hera escape flattery anywhere?” Ixion bowed toward her.

Hera was still silent, angry, mortified. Sending her away from the head table was a pretty big deal. Not to mention the fact that she and Aphrodite had a long-standing Alpha Bitch rivalry going on. Euphrosyne skittered over to Hera’s side of the table and took her hands. “You finally get to meet my little sister!” she said with delight. “Well, she’s not really my sister, but she’s Eros’ sister, so she’s kind of like my sister, and Aphrodite’s family to me anyway because she’s Eros’ mom.”

Euphrosyne’s magic was working on even Hera. Hera followed Euphrosyne back to her table. Eros followed them, too. He stood, or hovered, rather, so Hera could have his seat next to Aphrodite. “So this is the mysterious daughter you’ve been keeping from us,” Hera said, still standing, looking over the cherubic, tow-headed girl who still slept in Aphrodite’s arms. “Will you wake her up so I can give her a proper introduction?”

“Can’t you introduce her while she’s asleep?” Aphrodite hesitated.

“She’ll be fine,” said Euphrosyne as she laid a hand on Beroe’s chubby little arm.

“Wake up, honey,” Aphrodite whispered in her ear. “Wake up. There are some people who want to meet you. You need to be good and quiet for Mommy. Can you do that?”

Beroe opened her eyes. She saw Aphrodite, then Euphrosyne, then Eros, then Hera. Calliope must have seen the look of startled recognition with which Beroe was staring at Hera, because she deftly segued our music to Beroe’s favorite lullaby. We’d planned for that possibility in advance, of course.

“Gods and Goddesses of the Olympian Court,” said Hera. “As your Queen, it is my honor to introduce the newest of the Olympian goddesses. I present to you the daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis, granddaughter of Hades and Persephone, Beroe.”

The crowd responded with adoring applause. Beroe kept staring at Hera in silence. “Can you stand, my lovely?” Hera asked Beroe. “You should bow to the Court.”

Beroe slid off Aphrodite’s lap. She gave an awkward little bow. Then she climbed back into Aphrodite’s lap, still without a word. Her expression made it clear that she didn’t like the attention.

Hera took a seat, too. Everyone (except, of course, the musicians) got to the actual feasting part of the feast. I stayed focused on Aphrodite’s table as I went on with the show.

“Beroe, honey,” said Aphrodite as she cut up some food for her daughter, “do you know who this lady is?”

“Yes.”

A wave of panic rippled through the table and the band. Beroe’s first word. Could we be fortunate enough that it wouldn’t be followed by a second?

“Who am I, dear?” Hera asked in amusement.

Just say Hera, just say Hera, just say Hera, I thought. I tried to remember if we’d ever showed her images of Hera, or if her only knowledge of Hera was from the memories of people Hera had killed. I prepared for the worst in case it was the latter. So did everyone else at the table.

“I saw you die.”

None of us had prepared for that.

“Stop the music,” Hera ordered.  “Stop everything. Everyone, silence.” We all obeyed. “Now, dear, tell me again what you just said?”

Beroe looked at Hera. There was no fear in her eyes, eyes that looked too old for her face. Only a strange mix of curiosity and pity. She repeated, clear enough for the whole room to hear, “I saw you die.”

“Do you know what ‘die’ means?” Hera asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “Like my daddy. It means you can only live in Hades.”

“Beroe, why don’t we-” Euphrosyne tried to distract her, but Hera cut her off.

“How do you know you saw me die?” asked Hera.

“I know what dead feels like,” said Beroe. “You died. I saw you. He called you Hera.”

“Who called me Hera?”

“The man with the white hair and the lightning. How did you come back alive? Will my daddy come back alive, too?”

At this, Zeus turned to face her.

Beroe took one look at him and changed completely. Not in a shapeshifty way. Godlings don’t get those powers until they’re older. More in a freaked-out toddler meltdown way. “He did it!” she screamed. “She died and he killed her! He killed lots of them!” Euphrosyne and Psyche both rushed to comfort Beroe. Before long she fell asleep again.

“Well,” said Zeus, “it seems, Aphrodite, that you were right to wait until your daughter was older to bring her to court. In fact, I’m not sure she ever needs to be a part of our court. I’m giving you the next ten months for maternity leave. When your daughter’s growing year is done, she can go wherever she wants. Just not here.”

Aphrodite teleported away with Beroe in her arms. We couldn’t follow. We had to finish the set.

 

mask.stock

 

The moment our set was done and we’d taken our final bows, we Muses left the party and met up with Aphrodite in our throne room on Parnassus. Apollo was there with us. So were Eros and Psyche, and, to our surprise, Artemis and Athena.

“We have an offer to make,” said Athena.

“Your Museum is full to capacity,” said Artemis, “and ours has eight empty rooms. It would probably be a lot easier on everyone if Aphrodite spent the rest of Beroe’s growing year on Helicon with us.”

“If you take the room at the end of the other wing, we’ll never even know you’re there,” said Athena. “I mean, you’ll never even know we’re there.”

“House rules?” asked Aphrodite. “How do you feel about visitors?”

“We’re not exactly celibate these days,” said Artemis. She acted annoyed at having to make this revelation, but no one had really asked for it. Especially not her brother. “No reason you should be.”

“Well, obviously,” said Aphrodite. “That’s non-negotiable. I just meant friends and family. I have friends and family, you know.”

“Yeah; Eros, Psyche, and Euphrosyne think they live here now, too,” I said.

“That’s fine, as long as Eros can keep his arrows off my huntresses,” said Artemis. “They already think that, since I’m sleeping with Athena, they can turn my camp into a dating service.”

“Fair enough,” said Aphrodite.

“And no love spells on me and Athena either,” said Artemis. “It’s not necessary. We’re already lovers.”

“All right, we get it!” said Apollo.

“Won’t be a problem,” said Aphrodite. “When can I move in?”

“Any time,” said Athena.

“We’ll help you move,” Calliope said to Aphrodite. “And if you need anything, please feel free to summon us.”

“Any of us,” said Apollo. To Artemis and Athena, he said, “Thank you. Things were getting a little crowded here.”

“I’m glad we could help,” said Athena. “Beroe’s a special little girl, and for now, a vulnerable one. It would be best if all of us direct our efforts toward keeping her safe and alive.”

I wondered if anyone else noticed the way Athena stared at me when she said that.

 

mask.stock

 

But there was no time to find out. Athena, Artemis, and Apollo were summoned back to Olympus to discuss what would be done about Ixion. I didn’t want to miss that, so I got my Helmet of Darkness and followed.

All of the Twelve except for Aphrodite were seated in the Olympian throne room. Ixion knelt in the center, unable to hear or see his judges and jurors. I stood silently beside him, as invisible to the other gods and goddesses as they were to him.

“The solution looks simple enough to me,” said Demeter. “Give him a potion of Lethe water so that he forgets what he heard.”

“Nice try, but that won’t get Persephone to come back,” said Hermes. “She can always use me for a delivery boy. Plus, I think Apollo keeps diluted Lethe water on hand at Parnassus anyway.”

“Mortals are extremely sensitive to its effect,” said Apollo. “It’s difficult enough to mix a formula that will make a god completely forget a small, specific window of time. If we give it to Ixion, we risk making him forget the entire feast, which defeats the purpose of having the feast in the first place. One drop too much and he could forget years of his life. Can’t you just tell him Beroe isn’t a prophecy goddess, and that she was only a confused child?”

“How can you be certain she isn’t a prophecy goddess?” said Zeus.

“Are you saying you don’t know that you’re not going to kill your wife?” said Artemis.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Zeus.

“You can hardly blame her for asking,” said Athena. I got the impression that she wasn’t thrilled with Artemis’ timing, but that she was seizing the moment for her own agenda. “I don’t know what Beroe saw, or if she really saw anything, but it wouldn’t hurt to reassure your court that you don’t plan to kill any of us.”

“Will you listen to yourself?” said Zeus. “Each and every one of you is immortal. I couldn’t kill any of you even if I wanted.”

“Of course I thought of that,” said Athena, “but we can’t all be wisdom deities. First of all, Beroe’s definition of death was ‘you can only live in Hades.’ The Titans are immortal, but they’re eternally bound in Hades. It’s not unreasonable to fear that you could do the same to any of us; and out of the Twelve, Hera is the greatest potential threat to your power. Your lightning bolts are literally the only tactical advantage you have over her.”

“I have no intention of usurping my husband’s crown,” said Hera. “Why should I, when I have one of my own?”

“Of course, My Lady,” said Athena. “I’m only speaking theoretically. In reality, I doubt Zeus would be foolish enough to banish you. You’re too invaluable as an asset. He needs you as an ally in the event that any of the other gods ever rose against him, especially any other Children of the Titans. But what about the rest of us? Hermes and Dionysus only have full immortality because Zeus granted it to them. Their mothers are both long dead. Dionysus’ mother died before she’d carried him to term.” I noticed Athena chose to gloss over the details. Hermes’ mother had simply reached the end of a nymph’s long lifespan and faded into the forest, but Dionysus’ mother’s death was one of the many attributed to Hera’s jealousy. Another death that, now that I thought of it, had no witnesses aside from Hera and Zeus. “Why shouldn’t they worry that Zeus would take away their immortality if he decided they no longer deserved it?”

“If I may say so,” Dionysus interjected, “as long as you leave me my wine and my cock, I don’t care what else you take.”

“Your mouth and your hands?” said Hermes. The brothers shared a laugh. I forced myself not to join them. Damn it. Apollo was snickering, and I wouldn’t be able to mock him about it later.

“The coup begins as we speak,” Zeus rolled his eyes.

“And what about Hephaestus?” Athena continued. “He’s Hera’s son, not yours. If you depose his mother, what happens to him? And to his demigod wife, who was only granted full immortality by Hera’s grace?”

“Hephaestus would prefer to be left out of this,” he spoke for himself.

“Athena, my dear, your strategic thinking is incomparable, but not infallible,” said Zeus. “Hephaestus is safer than anyone. With the Cyclops gone, he’s my only source of weaponry. Others have tried to surpass Hephaestus’ skill over the centuries. None have even come close to matching it.”

“But the Cyclops didn’t leave Hephaestus the spell that makes you the sole wielder of the lightning bolts,” said Athena. “Once your supply runs out, they’re gone. Hephaestus will have to construct a replacement. The Cyclops kept your spell a secret, but would the Son of Hera keep it from his own mother?”

“What did I ever do to yo- Never mind,” said Hephaestus.

“Very well,” said Zeus. “Thanks to Athena’s overactive imagination, I suppose it’s necessary to make this announcement: I have no plans to strike against any of you, least of all Hera, and I certainly have neither the intent nor the means to kill any of you.”

“I think we’d all feel better if you swore to that,” said Athena.

“I swear I will never kill any of you,” said Zeus.

“Any of who?” Athena asked.

“Any of you currently gathered in this room,” said Zeus.

“Fair enough,” Athena agreed. “Now that you’ve ruled out killing Ixion, let’s figure out what we are going to do with him.”

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” said Zeus. “I never had any intention of killing Ixion. How would it look if I were rewarding him one moment and ordering his death the next? Besides, Ixion has done no wrong. I am a just and gracious ruler, as you all know. It would be cruel to kill a man for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“But we cannot let him tell the mortals what he heard,” said Hera. “No matter what we might do to discredit him, once the rumors start that there’s infighting among the Twelve, we can do nothing to stop them. Any divine retribution toward the accursed talebearers would only give credence to their tales.”

“So we can’t kill him, we can’t erase his memories, and we can’t let him go back to his kingdom and tell everyone what he heard,” said Athena.

“The answer, my dear,” said Zeus, “is quite simple. Perhaps too simple for one as given to overthinking as you are,” he laughed. “We keep Ixion here on Olympus for the time being. He has a good steward at his own court. His kingdom will do well in his absence. Hestia, see to it that guest quarters are prepared for him in the lower ring.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Hermes, go to Ixion’s palace and tell his steward that the king is to be my personal guest for an indefinite time.”

“When you say your personal guest…?” said Hermes.

“Oh, no, I said ‘guest,’ not ‘cupbearer,'” said Zeus. “Boys like Ganymede only come along once an age.”

“I certainly hope you mean that,” said Hera. “I haven’t promised not to kill anyone.”

“You’ll keep such talk to yourself while our guest is with us,” Zeus warned. “Whenever we do send him back, we want him to go with tales of a unified, harmonious Olympus.”

“You being faithful to your own wife for the duration of his visit might go a long way toward creating that illusion,” said Hera.

“Nonsense,” said Zeus. “Poseidon has as many lovers as he pleases, and Amphitrite never speaks a cross word to him or about him. Is it really asking too much for you to be more agreeable?”

Demeter spoke up. “You’ve never heard my daughter, the Queen of Hades, speak a word against her husband except in jest. Hades is not the husband I would have chosen for my Persephone. If it were up to me, she never would have bound herself to one man for eternity at all. But I will say this in his favor: Persephone regards her husband with honor because he conducts himself honorably. If you’re so concerned about your good name, Zeus, I suggest you do likewise.”

Zeus responded with a mock slow clap. “It’s good to know that, after nearly a thousand years, you’ve finally become reconciled to your daughter defying you and marrying against your will,” he said. “And I might possibly be inclined to take your admonition the slightest bit seriously if I didn’t know you were one of Poseidon’s innumerable mistresses.”

“You take that back!” Demeter shouted. “You know as well as any of our brethren that Poseidon should have been mine! He was mine until he became obsessed with that simpering sea witch. He had as little use for marriage as I did until she came along. And she didn’t even want him! Who knows what kind of spell has kept her enthralled with him all this time, and how long she’d stay if it were lifted!”

“So is the mortal guy staying here or what?” said Ares, whose attention span had been taxed beyond its limits.

“He is,” said Zeus. “Let us reveal ourselves to him and proclaim his fate. Dionysus, that is not what I meant by ‘reveal ourselves,’ and you know it.”

Zeus rose and stood by his throne. The rest of the gods and goddesses did the same. Watching Ixion’s face, I could tell when he was able to see them.

“Ixion, my son,” said Zeus. “In one short day, you have proven such a blessing to our court that we wish to bless you in return. We invite you to be our guest here on Mount Olympus. Even now, Hermes is leaving to tell your court the news.”

Ixion still knelt, but his bearing was indomitable. He knew he was being played, and he knew the smartest thing he could do was play along. He shifted his glance toward Hera and said, “I accept your blessing with gratitude, My Lord and Lady. May I ever continue in your good graces.”

 

mask.stock

 

So that was that. Ixion moved into the palace on Mount Olympus. Aphrodite and Beroe moved into the old Museum on Mount Helicon with Artemis and Athena. And oddly enough, nothing particularly eventful happened during Beroe’s growing year. Looked like keeping her “safe and alive” might not be such a challenge after all.

 

mask.stock

 

Journal Entry 1, by Beroe, age 6 months

 

Psyche told me to start keeping a stupid journal last week, and since my next session is tomorrow, I guess I’d better start. I don’t get the point. It’s not like I’m going to let her read it. Don’t I tell her enough already??? I’m going to tell Artemis about this. Maybe Artemis can talk Psyche out of making me keep a stupid journal. If anyone can, she can. Artemis is like the most awesome goddess ever. No, the most awesome anything ever!!!!

My six-month birthday was today. Psyche says I’m like a teenager in human years now. I don’t know why she keeps bringing up human years, because I don’t know any humans. I guess it’s because she used to be one. I keep forgetting about that. It’s weird. Anyway, Mom had a big party for me. Artemis invited all the huntresses and most of them showed up, Aglaea and Hephaestus came with Eros, Psyche, and Euphrosyne, and Apollo and all the Muses came. It was cool seeing them. Calliope doesn’t come with Apollo and Thalia as much anymore. I don’t know why. I miss her. She was so cool. I liked that fountain she used to let me play with. Whatever. I guess that’s kid’s stuff. Anyway, I’ve pretty much lost Dad’s memories of Apollo (the weird ones anyway) so the brain bleach must be working. It’s like, I remember Dad liking him, but I don’t get flashbacks about making out with him or anything. I’ve lost most of his memories with Mom, too. Thank the Fates!!!!!!! Ugh, why are my parents so friggin’ obsessed with love and sex and all that stuff? So gross. I NEVER want a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or an anything inbetween friend. I can’t wait til I’m old enough to join Artemis’ huntresses. Officially. I’m practically one of them now. But Artemis says I have to wait til I’m at least a year old before I join.

It’s not fair. I’m good enough to be a huntress now. I can keep up with any of them at running or shooting. I can even beat a few of them. I can beat Eros at shooting. I can probably beat Artemis and Apollo, too, but they won’t let me try. They’re probably scared of being beaten by a kid.

Artemis does want me to be a huntress, though. You know how I know? She gave me a hunting chiton for my half-birthday!!! I’ve been begging Mom for one for ages, but she wants me to dress like a girl. A couple weeks ago I chopped my hair off with a hunting knife, and Mom made it grow back. And then she put nail polish on my fingers AND my toes! WTF is wrong with her? Why can’t I just dress the way I want to dress!!?? It’s MY body! I think there should be a rule that a mom can’t tell her daughter what to do anymore once the daughter’s taller than the mom. Aglaea thinks I might get beauty goddess powers when I get older. When she told me that I said I hoped I wouldn’t because beauty goddess stuff is stupid. But it would be cool if I could just snap my fingers and

OMS!!!!! I just tried it and it totally worked that time!!!!! My hair’s all chopped off and if Mom tries to grow it back, I can just chop it off again! Man, she’s going to freak! This is awesome!

Stupid makeup off: check.

Fingers unpolished: check.

Toes unpolished: check.

Nails trimmed super short like Artemis’: check.

Awesome! I’m going to go shoot some stuff now.

Damn it! Why did the freakin’ storm have to start right now? I HATE thunderstorms. The lightning brings up too many memories. I’m still trying to figure out that one where I saw Hera die. Psyche’s showing me how to find different people in my head and go through their memories. And I know it’s a memory, not a prophesy. I don’t have prophesies. So weird. So, I know I’m seeing Hera. I can feel her thinking “I’m Hera.” Which is kind of weird since I don’t go around thinking “I’m Beroe,” but whatever. Anyway, I see her looking at herself in the freakin’ mirror in their bedroom. It’s definitely Hera. And then Zeus comes in, and he’s yelling at her, and he kills her. I know I feel her die. I feel all of them die. I know what it feels like.

Wait, I never noticed that before. The last thing she thinks is “The baby.” She’s pregnant. She’s thinking about a baby inside her. I can feel it. She’s afraid it’s going to die, too. Man, I never want to be pregnant. Clio says Hera was only pregnant like four times, so this narrows things down. Is this what really happened to Hephaestus? Eros told me the story about Hera dropping him off the mountain, but how does Eros know that’s what happened? He wasn’t there. And it’s not like Hephaestus could remember. How does he know he got the story right? Everyone in this stupid pantheon lies about everything.

Come on, Beroe. Breathe. Focus. Try to get further back into Dead Hera’s brain. But not so far back that you remember Zeus boning her (soooo gross!). Remember…remember…remember…

Who’s Semele?

mask.stock

3.2 King Meets Queen

I never got to sleep that night. I was sure that, as soon as I did, I’d be called before the Fates, and Calliope would be right next to me. My own trials with the Fates had been relatively simple. The hypothesis was that, as the Muse of Comedy, my blessing could invoke a happy ending in real life the way my worshipers write happy endings for their plays. But how might the Fates test Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry? Calliope’s art is the stuff of wars, intrigue, usurpation, great heroics, great betrayals, and great tragedies. An epic isn’t guaranteed a happy ending.

But my worries were for nothing. The Fates didn’t summon me that night, or the next night, or the one after that. Persephone came to Olympus like Calliope said, so Demeter quit the drama. Persephone wouldn’t leave Demeter’s quarters or take visitors, though, so I didn’t get to see her. Nothing eventful in any way, shape, or form happened.

Except freakin’ Aphrodite and her freakin’ baby living in my freakin’ room.

Calliope spent as much of her spare time with the baby as possible. The official reason was that she had solid childcare experience and she wanted to give Aphrodite a break. I was the only one she told the real reason. Calliope was watching for Beroe to start talking. She wanted to see whether Beroe only had Adonis’ memories, or if, like the Corybantes, she had all the memories of the dead. If it was the latter, Orpheus’ memories were buried somewhere in Beroe’s mind, and Calliope would finally have a chance to learn the secret Zeus killed him to protect.

But it usually takes baby gods about a month to start babbling and at least two months to form full sentences, so I was bored. I had no choice but to seek diversion elsewhere.

 

mask.stock

 

I’d been neglecting my mortal minions, so I decided to look in on Eustachys, one of my favorite playthings playwrights. Dude had come a long way from herding sheep. His entries at the last two Pythian Games had caught the attention of Ixion, King of the Lapiths. King Ixion had recently hired Eustachys to write, direct, and produce the entertainment for his impending nuptials with Princess Dia. Eustachys was given a suite in King Ixion’s palace and access to all the resources he needed to produce his biggest and best show ever. The wedding was only two months away. I figured if Eustachys was going to credit me in his production (which of course he was), I’d better start inspiring a performance worthy of my name.

I stayed invisible to Eustachys and the other mortals in the palace. It was more fun that way. I hung around his office, whispered an idea in his head every now and then, mocked the terrible ideas he came up with on his own. A good time was had by all.

In the interest of knowing my minion’s audience, I spent a lot of time exploring Ixion’s palace. Ixion himself wasn’t around much, but a person’s home can give you plenty of information about them. My main impressions were that he preferred simple comforts to grandiose opulence (borrring!), his servants were very well cared for (more boring!), his livestock was, too (awww!), and he was an extremely pious man (back to boredom). Okay, that last part was only boring since I wasn’t one of his household gods. He was all about Zeus and Hera.

Man, was he sucking up to Hera! Which made sense to me. If you’re about to get married, appeasing the Goddess of Marriage is a pretty good idea. His shrine to Hera was an amazing work of art for something human-made. His images of Hera had to have been made by people who attended her public appearances at the Games. They weren’t perfect replicas, since she never lets anyone see her up close, but you could tell that whoever made the images had put a lot of care and effort into making the best likeness possible. More than just the physical resemblance, they brought out the best of Hera’s spirit. The nobility, strength, and honor that was subsumed by jealousy, pettiness, and insecurity way too often in reality.

By the eve of the wedding, Eustachys had all the inspiration he needed for an awesome production. My work was done. I didn’t want to go back to Parnassus yet, so I decided to stick around the palace and spy on the almost-newlyweds themselves. King Ixion had returned to his palace. Princess Dia had just moved in, too. Under her parents’ supervision, of course, because we all know every virtuous mortal bride is a virgin on her wedding night, especially if she’s a princess.

When I located Ixion and Dia the night before their wedding, they were in an empty stall in the royal stable being good virtuous virgins. Um, not like I watched or anything. I just, you know, noticed. I kept my eyes averted as I maintained my vantage point in the hay loft.

I waited to really observe them until they were resting in the afterglow with a large, empty wine cask off to the side. They made a beautiful couple. Ixion was dark, broad, rugged, definitely more of an Ares than an Apollo. Dia had silky black hair, a complexion that spoke of summers at seaside, and a body in the prime of mortal womanhood. And…wow, she looked a lot like those images of Hera. So much so that I wondered if I’d gotten the inspiration wrong and Dia herself had been the model.

“This would be so much safer in my quarters, you know,” Ixion said as he regained his breath.

“How much fun would that be?” Dia laughed. “Besides, there’s just something about being in a stable, don’t you think? The dust catching the moonlight, the scent of the straw…the horses.” I was a little disturbed at how thoroughly aroused she seemed by the last part. The resemblance to the Hera images was shoved out of my mind.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand that,” Ixion sighed, perplexed but pleased.

“I know,” said Dia, “but it’s sweet that you try.”

“Should I be jealous of the stallion?” Ixion teased.

“We could raid the tack room,” Dia teased back. “See if there’s anything that could aid your imagination.”

“Maybe someday,” said Ixion. “For now you have enough imagination for both of us.” Drowsy with wine and euphoria, the lovers rolled into each other and fell asleep.

Ixion did, anyway. Dia began to stir again after awhile. Seeing her bridegroom’s sleeping form, she laughed the laugh of one whose mate cannot hold their liquor, stretched her arms, and got up.

She walked around the stable in a slow, quiet haze. Every so often she’d stop and stroke a horse’s nose. At the far end of the stable, she came to a magnificent, pure white war horse. He nickered to her. “Well, hello there,” she said as she took his head in hand. “Aren’t you a fine one? Ixion didn’t tell me he’d gotten a new stud.”

She was right. Ixion had, in fact, just referred to the stallion, indicating that there was only supposed to be one. I could see a second one, a chestnut, in a stall near the entrance. Quickly, I snapped up my Helmet of Darkness and put it on. If this stallion was a shapeshifter, I hoped he didn’t mean Dia any harm, and more than that, I hoped he hadn’t seen me.

My suspicions were heightened when the stallion curled his lip at Dia. She laughed. “What I wouldn’t give for the Necklace of Harmonia,” she said. “Legends say it gave the Goddess Harmonia and her mortal bridegroom the power to transform themselves to any creature they chose. They chose snakes. Can you imagine that?” she laughed again. “Snakes, when they could have known each other in a glorious form like yours?”

“My poor, sweet princess,” the stallion said in a voice I would know anywhere. “It can be as you wish.”

I stayed still and silent, though I was panicking inside. Now that I knew the stallion’s true identity, I hoped more than anything that he hadn’t seen me. He knew that I had his wife’s favor, and that I might report to her. I wouldn’t really do any such thing. I’d love to get Zeus in trouble, but knowing Hera, I knew Dia would be the one to pay for whatever was about to happen.

“What’s going on?” Dia faltered. “Who’s talking? Show yourself!” Suddenly, Dia was transformed into a blood bay mare, as impressive a war horse as the white stallion before her.

“Shh, you’re dreaming,” said the stallion as he nuzzled the curve of her back. “You fell asleep after you made love to your bridegroom. He’s standing watch over you now, waiting for you to wake up so he can see you safely back to the palace.”

“This is only a dream?” Dia hesitated.

“Yes, my beauty. A parting gift from Poseidon, God of Horses, whose service you’ll leave as you leave your father’s household. Consider this dream a reward for remaining faithful to a bridegroom who doesn’t share your more imaginative desires. Come now, surely a dream can’t make you unfaithful?”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to wake Ixion. I wanted to run down to Dia and teleport her far away and hide her until I could gather my sisters and restore her form. But doing any of that would have alerted Zeus to my presence. I couldn’t risk making myself a target. Not when Calliope was still so terrified of him. The most I could do was stay put and see how I could help Dia once Zeus was done with her.

“It’s only a dream,” Dia repeated. She reared on her hind legs and shook her luxurious mane as she whinnied in triumph. She led the stallion on a chase out the stable door. I floated after them. Dia jumped the fence into an empty paddock. The stallion followed. Once inside the paddock, he cantered in circles around his delighted captive. I wracked my brain trying to think of who I could summon, but there was no one I could both trust and risk.

A giant flash of smoke in peacock blue, green, purple, and gold interrupted the scene and enveloped the two horses. When the smoke cleared, Dia lay dead in her human form and Hera stood over her.

Zeus reverted to his natural form. “You couldn’t have waited until we were finished?” he shouted.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! I suppose you’ll just have to find some other whore who shares your particular perversions now,” Hera shot back.

“Maybe I wouldn’t have to if my own wife wasn’t a frigid shrew,” said Zeus.

“Maybe your wife wouldn’t be so ‘frigid’ if you actually showed some interest in her natural body!” said Hera.

“I might if it didn’t come with a voice,” said Zeus. “It obviously didn’t come with a brain. Did you even consider the effect Dia’s death is going to have on the politics of this region? Her and Ixion’s marriage would have been to the advantage of both their kingdoms. As the God of Law and Government, I have to keep an eye on these things.”

“And you didn’t see any conflict of interest in jeopardizing their marriage before it had even begun?” said Hera. “Believe it or not, as Queen of the Gods, I’m not completely ignorant of the complexities of political science. And as Goddess of Marriage, I’ve been keeping my eye on Ixion and Dia as well. Dia might have been a pervert, but she was at least a faithful one until you came along and made a whore of her. She would have had my blessing. And Ixion, a far better man than she deserved, would have had my blessing a thousand times over. You destroyed this match and any good that would’ve come of it, not me.”

“That woman lies dead by my hand?” said Zeus. “Is that what you’re telling me?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Come to think of it, I hadn’t actually seen Hera strike the fatal blow. I went through a mental list of people Hera had allegedly cursed. How many did I have an eye witness report on? Callisto? Check. I had seen Hera order her death myself. Echo? Check. Her memories of being cursed by Hera were very detailed and particular. Io? Hm. I never did get the full story from her. She’d called being stuck in the form of a cow for three years “Hera’s curse,” but didn’t tell me if she’d actually seen Hera execute it. Artemis and Athena had said Hera turned Io into a cow, but neither of them had claimed to have seen it, either. In fact, the more I thought about it, I realized Callisto and Echo were my only two eyewitness confirmations. Two. Out of hundreds if not thousands.

“Why don’t we finish this conversation on Olympus?” said Zeus with a subtle but unmistakable threat in his tone.

“I’m not going there or anywhere else with you,” said Hera.

“Suit yourself,” said Zeus. He disappeared.

Hera stood alone with Dia’s corpse. I’d never seen Hera look so tired. So empty. Slowly, she looked around in all directions. I hoped beyond hope that she couldn’t detect me. She didn’t seem to. There was no recognition or focus in her eyes when she looked in my direction. Her whole demeanor begged the universe for something she could only get from herself: permission to cry.

She didn’t give or receive it.

Ixion came running from the direction of the stable. Hera stayed where she was. I assumed Ixion couldn’t see her. She had probably assumed that, too. But we were both wrong.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What happened to my bride? If you’ve harmed her-”

“She’s dead,” said Hera. “I’ve guarded her body.”

“I awoke just now with a feeling, a premonition, that Dia was in danger,” said Ixion.

“Of course you did,” Hera sighed. I suspected Zeus was responsible for that. Hera probably did, too. I wondered if Zeus was also responsible for the fact that Ixion could see Hera.

“Who are you?” Ixion asked again. “You look like royalty, but I know every noblewoman in Thessaly.”

“I’m not from Thessaly,” said Hera. Technically, Olympus was inside the borders of Thessaly, but no mortal government would be stupid enough to claim ownership of it. Same with Parnassus, Helicon, and the rest of our sacred places.

“Since you won’t tell me who you are, will you at least tell me what happened to the Princess?” he pleaded.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I did.”

“Lady, are you in danger?” asked Ixion, concern for this strange, lone woman intruding on his distress.

“I am more dangerous than you could possibly imagine,” said Hera. “If you knew who I am, you would cower in fear. But I’ll not harm you. You were an honorable and faithful lover, even if your bride wasn’t. I’m sure you would have been a good husband.”

“What are you talking about? Dia loves – loved – me as much as I love her! There was never anyone else!” Ixion protested.

“She was with him tonight,” said Hera. “He left her for dead.”

“How would you know?” asked Ixion, distraught and overwhelmed, but still not directing any anger at his trespasser. “Was he your husband? Were you following him?”

“Why do you say that?” said Hera. “Do I look like a woman whose husband couldn’t be content with her?”

“Not a minute ago, you said I didn’t deserve Dia’s alleged infidelity and that I would have been a good husband,” said Ixion. “How you know anything about either of us, I still don’t understand, but why would that apply to me and not to you? Though, of course, I don’t know that it was your husband, or whether you even have one. I still don’t know anything about you, including why you’re standing over my bride’s corpse.”

“Don’t worry about who I am,” said Hera. “Just be grateful you were spared.”

“Spared from what?” asked Ixion. “Was I your husband’s target? Was Dia a hostage? None of this is making sense.”

“Spared from marriage,” said Hera. “It isn’t worth it.” She gave a bitter smile that couldn’t quite muster an accompanying laugh. “When I was young, and I learned what marriage was for the first time, I thought it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. A man and a woman pledging their lives to each other and to the children they would create together. Each dedicating themselves to the other’s care and keeping. Making a home together. Each being the other’s safety. Being able to share themselves with complete vulnerability, without fear of harm, judgment, or rejection. But it doesn’t exist. Any of it. It’s all a cruel illusion, and my life has been nothing but a futile attempt to protect that illusion.”

“Well, you’ve answered my first question about your husband,” said Ixion, his sympathy evident. “You are in danger. If you seek refuge within my walls, it’s yours.”

Hera doesn’t like sympathy. She turned away from Ixion and became the proud ice queen again. “I’m done here,” she said. “Unless you’d like me to stay and witness to your bride’s parents that you didn’t kill her.”

“Then he did?”

“Leave him out of this.”

“You won’t be a very useful witness if you won’t identify the real killer,” said Ixion. “Where will you go? Not back to your husband, I hope?”

“I have nowhere else to go. You offer me refuge only because you have no idea who I am and what I’m capable of,” said Hera.

“I believe you’re innocent,” said Ixion.

“Why?” Hera asked.

“Because you haven’t tried to convince me that you are,” he said. “And I fear that if I turn you away, your fate will be the same as Dia’s. I’m trying to help you. Please let me.”

“You? Help me?” Now Hera did laugh. “My dear, foolish creature. I’m one of the two most powerful beings on earth. I married the other one.”

The mysterious robed noblewoman disappeared before King Ixion’s eyes. He knew then that he’d been visited by Hera, Queen of the Gods.

I took off my helmet, approached Ixion, and made myself visible. He didn’t startle. He seemed too dazed and bewildered to be affected by trivial things like fear. “Ixion?” I said softly.

“Who are you?” he asked. “Hestia? Demeter? Persephone, come to take my Dia to the Underworld?”

“I’m sure she’s already there,” I said. “Hades is one of the most fair and honorable gods in the Pantheon. He decides where mortals spend eternity, not Zeus or Hera, and I just know Dia’s already resting peacefully in the Asphodel Meadows. And I wanted to make sure you knew that she didn’t cheat on you. Zeus shapeshifted, and he convinced her it was just a dream, and they didn’t even get to do it before Hera showed up. Dia loved you. There wasn’t anyone else.”

“Then you saw her die?” said Ixion. “How did it happen?”

“I saw her and Zeus, then I saw a huge cloud of smoke, then I saw Hera, and Dia was dead,” I said. “I didn’t see how it happened. I’m sorry.”

“Can you stay and tell Dia’s parents your story in the morning?” he asked.

“I wish I could,” I said, “but I can’t afford to get stuck in Zeus and Hera’s crossfire. I’m taking a huge risk just by having this conversation.”

“Thank you for taking it,” he said. “It means more than I can tell you. Is there some sacrifice I can thank you with?”

“Can you make sure Eustachys and his troupe still get paid? They’ve been working really hard. Dia would’ve loved the production he came up with,” I said with half a smile. “Lots of horses.”

Ixion looked down at the corpse in his arms. “So that’s why you couldn’t save her,” he said. “You’re only a Muse.”

 

mask.stock

 

Having done everything I could, I went home and got some sleep. The next morning I told Calliope everything I’d seen. She was heartbroken over Ixion and Dia’s tragic ending. And, as I’d expected, she was pretty freaked out about my narrow escape with Zeus and Hera, though she was glad I hadn’t kept it from her. She was adamant that it must have been Zeus, not Hera, who’d actually killed Dia. I still didn’t know what to think about that.

Calliope had news for me, too. Big news. Beroe still wasn’t speaking in full sentences, which was a bit of a developmental delay at her age. But Calliope had found a way around that. Remember our Fountain of Imagination? Calliope had discovered that its water could be used as a projection screen for any image in the user’s mind. She’d been using a basin to entertain Beroe. Beroe had tried it a few times herself. She’d used it to project images of Calliope. At first Calliope thought Beroe was just projecting what she saw, but then Calliope’s long-dead lover, King Oegrus, started showing up in the images. He looked the way he had when their son Orpheus was Beroe’s size. Beroe was projecting Orpheus’ childhood memories.

“Does anyone else know?” I asked.

“Only Aphrodite and Apollo,” she said. “We’re keeping it a secret for now. We think it would be best for Beroe to stay here until the end of her growing year.”

“No kidding,” I said. “And she’s still not talking at all?”

“No,” said Calliope. “She doesn’t even babble.”

“Well, let’s hope she’s not saving up.”

 

mask.stock

 

Hermes paid us a visit at breakfast the next morning. “Business or pleasure?” asked Aphrodite, who’d joined us in the dining hall as had become her custom.

“Business for now,” he said, lacking his usual jocularity. “You haven’t checked in at Court since the baby was born. Zeus and Hera are getting pretty ticked about it. They had a huge fight this morning, and now they’re ordering you to move back to Olympus and present the baby at a feast they’re throwing tomorrow.”

“I’ll check in all they want, but I’m not moving back, and I don’t want them throwing any feast for my baby,” Aphrodite replied.

“The feast isn’t for Beroe,” said Hermes. “They just want to kill two birds with one stone. See, there’s this mortal king, Ixion, who’s a pretty big deal right now. He was supposed to marry some princess named Dia, but she was found dead the night before the wedding. Her parents think Ixion had her killed to get out of their alliance. He’d promised them half the broodmares in his stables as a token. But he was really pissed off about them accusing him of murder and all that, so he said he wasn’t paying them anything. So Dia’s father got some of his soldiers to extract the horses from Ixion’s stables themselves. Ixion saw that coming. His guards were waiting for them. Dia’s father died in the fight.”

“Charming breakfast conversation,” said Apollo, “but what does this have to do with Aphrodite and Beroe?”

“Well, here’s where things get interesting,” said Hermes. “Poseidon is Dia’s father’s patron god.” Ah, yes, Poseidon. King of the Ocean Realm. As in Hades rules the Underworld, and Poseidon the Seas, because I in my wisdom allow it…I granted them their realms, and I could take them away in a moment if I chose. Thus spake Zeus in the infamous monologue he delivered at the previous year’s Pythian Games. The same monologue in which he’d declared himself Leader of the Fates. Neither Poseidon nor Hades had made any formal comment on it yet, but no one was naïve enough to think they’d disregarded it.

Hermes continued his story. “Right away, Poseidon demanded that Zeus punish Ixion for his ‘treachery’. Which, technically, legally, is not all that inaccurate an assessment of the situation. Ixion had signed an unbreakable contract with Dia’s father, and there was nothing in there about it being contingent on the bride living until the wedding.”

“Let me guess,” said Apollo. “Zeus would’ve punished Ixion anyway, but since Poseidon told Zeus to punish him, now Zeus has somehow come up with a reason to reward him instead?”

“I kid you not,” said Hermes, “Zeus is throwing a feast in this mortal’s honor on Mount Freakin’ Olympus. Tomorrow. And he wants the whole Olympian Court and the Nine Muses to be there, or else.”