The last two, I thought. I was tired – more than I thought I would be – but it was the king and queen, and then the speech. Then I could rest. I straightened myself out and headed to the bar, leaning on the counter as Mateo, my well-rounded bartender from Nox, passed two glasses of wine to the couple. They clinked glasses and drank together, before Zeus saw me behind his wife.
“Hello, Nyx, I was wondering when we’d be seeing you tonight.” Hera turned around and gave me a warm smile as Mateo saw my nod to him, starting the mix for a Black Opal.
“I apologize it took me so long, I’ve been making the rounds to everyone.” Mateo handed me my drink with a grin, and I gave him a little toast before letting the velvety liquid slide down my throat. Much better than champagne, but I had a feeling I was going to regret all this alcohol later.
“No complaints from me, we’ve been having a lovely time not having to worry about anything but ourselves for once,” Hera commented, turning around to lean on the bar and survey the room.
I mimicked her stance, glancing at the couple. In the beginning, I hadn’t envied Hera – she put up with an incredible amount of madness in their younger years. But I had the utmost respect for them that they were still together, far calmer and much more the all-mighty power couple I knew they could be when they first married. It made me smile to see them so relaxed now.
“Zeus,” I started, and he sighed.
“If you want the OA to pay for half of this, Nyx, we really can’t -” he started, but I cut him off.
“Zeus, do you really think I would host all this and then expect everyone to pick up the bill? Or that I would accost you for such a thing, here and now? Who do you take me for?”
Hera snorted, side eyeing her husband, who faltered for a moment before laughing. “Sorry, work and play got switched.” He shook his head, folding his arms and facing me now. “What were you going to say, Nyx?”
I twisted to lean against the bar with one arm, my drink on the counter. “I thought long and hard about what to get the god that has everything at his fingertips. You have no need for the material, though I know you would never say no,” I said as he grinned and shrugged. “Land and real estate means nothing to someone who could conquer the world, if he so wished. So, I give you this instead.”
I stepped around Hera to stand eye to eye with Zeus, who had a curious expression on his face. I stuck my hand out. “A favour. Should the King of Olympus have need of me, in whatever capacity, you have but to call. I am at your service.”
Zeus measured the moment, sharp that he was. “I have the whole family at my call, if need be. What makes you so different from that?”
I was suddenly reminded of the ten-year war, when we had talked strategy on the front lines. He was just as shrewd now as he was then. I leaned forward and muttered in his ear, making Hera raise an eyebrow at us. When I pulled back, he had the twinkle of a laugh in his eyes.
“Alright then. I accept.” We clasped forearms, a grin on his face as a smattering of stars twisted around our arms.
“What was that all about?” Hera asked, eyes narrowed at the stars as they dissipated. I released Zeus and shook my hands out.
“Nothing to worry about. You’ve no fear of me trying to spirit away the King of the Gods,” I added, seeing Hera’s expression darken slightly. “You have my word.”
She nodded once, relaxing a modicum as I continued. “I of course have a gift for you, as well.” The Goddess of Marriage smiled and inclined her head, but remained silent.
“First, let’s make sure the lads aren’t nearby,” I peered around to make sure Dinlas and Eros were nowhere close by. One had a peculiar fear and the other a peculiar obsession with peacocks, and I felt too tired to deal with either right now. I spotted them across the room laughing with Hekate and Than, safely out of view of us. I looked back at Hera and moved my hands low across the floor. Out of the black swirling mist that formed stepped an albino peacock on a dainty gold leash. Almost at once, the bird flared and spread his tail feathers to the delight of those nearby. Several times the bird chirped lightly as he strutted back and forth.
Hera’s eyes lit up and she gave a small gasp. “Nyx, he is beautiful. An albino peacock, they are so rare that even I only see them on occasion.”
“He is gorgeous, Nyx,” Zeus added as he admired the bird.
“He comes from a small village in the Caucasus Mountains. There are several remote villages that keep them. They are blessed with albino birds at a much higher than average rate. I know you are an avid lover of peacocks, so I hope you like him.”
“Like him? I love him. I only feel bad we brought you nothing,” she replied.
“That warms me, that you love him,” I said. “As for a gift, I have only one desire. I want for us, all of us, to be close. And while I am a primordial, not an Olympian, I feel the warmth of family here that I haven’t felt in many centuries. I appreciate that already more than you can imagine.”
Hera smiled and stepped forward, arms wide, for a hug. We embraced and she whispered in my ear. “Nyx, regardless of origins, you are family. Thank you for taking care of my grandsons, each in their own way, as well as everything else you do here.”
I squeezed her tightly. “It is my utmost pleasure.” Breaking away from one another, I continued. “Your peacock has been kept in a heated portion of the stables for most of the day, would you like me to send him back there for the rest of the evening?”
Hera smiled wickedly, like a slow flash of lightning travels across the sky just before a summer thunderstorm. She took the gold leash and motioned for Zeus to follow her.
“Thank you again, Nyx, but I will take care of it. First, I want to show my grandsons my gift from you.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Hera and I were so much alike. I pointed to Thanatos and said, “Make sure you show it to my Than as well. He’s as terrified of peacocks as Dinlas.” I paused for a moment then added, “Actually, why not? I will tag along.”
We approached her grandsons, my lads, from behind. Hera cleared her throat loudly and said, “Boys, look at my Christmas present from Nyx.” Dinlas and Eros both turned and Dinlas stumbled backward, away from the all-white peacock that Hera was holding on a gold lead.
Eros’ smile was far too wide. “Oh, nice, Ya-ya. That bird is beautiful.” Hera gave him a dark look, then turned her attention back to Dinlas, who was still backing up. He walked into Thanatos, who turned to see what was happening and promptly faded into a paler shade of white as well.
Thanatos leaned into Dinlas and whispered, “Why does she have that thing here?” Meanwhile, Hekate cackled merrily at the sight of the God of Hate and the God of Death terrified by a bird the size of turkey.
Dinlas held a hand up as Hera advanced on him and stuttered, “N-now, Nana, that’s close enough with that creepy thing.” She cocked an eyebrow dangerously at Dinlas, but he quickly recovered when he added, “After all, don’t you want your present from me?”
“What present is this?” she asked, her curiosity piqued. I stepped back, arms folded and watched with tipsy amusement.
Dinlas kept his eye on the peacock. “Nana, first, get rid of the bird and then we’ll talk.”
Hera seemed torn: she very clearly wanted to torment them, but she also wanted another present. After a moment or two of deliberation she said, “Fine, spoil my fun. Nyx, would you be so kind then?” I stepped in and with several waves of my hand, made the peacock disappear back to the stables.
Hera still looked peeved as she looked Dinlas up and down. “Alright then, bird is gone. Let’s see this present.”
Dinlas reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, jewelry box sized, and handed it to Hera.
“Nana, this is for you, and only for you,” he said as he cut his eyes at his mischievous brother.
Hera unwrapped the box and opened it. Inside was a small cube, no bigger than a die, that looked to be made from fabric of some sort. She puzzled at it for a moment, then looked up at her grandson expectantly.
He smiled, leaned in to her and whispered, “It’s a flying carpet. It comes with a command word – the only way to control it.” He leaned in even closer, as Eros strained to hear, and whispered something unintelligible into Hera’s ear.
A mischievous smile spread across Hera’s face. She closed the box and reached out for a hug. “Thank you, Dinlas. How did you know I wanted a flying carpet?” Several people nearby snorted and coughed since Hera told everyone, repeatedly, for months she wanted one to replace the non-magical rug from her office Dinlas accidentally destroyed.
Dinlas smiled in his unassuming way, and shrugged. “Put it down where you want and it will expand to fit the space. Speak the command word, and the carpet cannot be moved until the word is spoken again. It is a lock against unwanted people using it.” Dinlas glanced at Eros again.
Eros rolled his eyes, frowning at his brother. “What’s the command word?” he asked.
When Dinlas ignored him, Eros grabbed another drink from a passing tray and took off, but not before shouting, “Rude!” over his shoulder.
Dinlas looked back at Hera and said, “Enjoy your rug Nana, you deserve it.”
Hera smiled and hugged him, then me again, and replied, “This has all been wonderful and I thank you all for coming back and being such a wonderful family.”
I took a step back once more, watching as Hera and Zeus started to argue over the carpet, my son and Dinlas chatting about the new addition to Hera’s peacock pen, and felt content. More than I had in awhile. I glanced around the room, seeing the rest of the family starting to mill around, looking for what was coming next, and I sighed. I left the scene quietly, finishing my drink as I headed towards the stage Noel had set up for me.
Time to finish the evening.