Trismegistus and I emerge from the portal together. What a scene we find. It was the perfect arena for potential bloodshed. The forces here ranged in chaotic alliance and opposition. Why would anyone assemble such a terrible gathering?
My father sits at the head of the table, my mother by his side. My siblings are arranged around the table in their glorious, mayhem-inducing diversity.
Ares sits by our mother, his hand near, but not touching her. She sits with her head resting on her hand, seemingly angry. My father is calm and listening. My long-lost and, in some cases, seldom seen relatives lounge around the table, scorning everyone’s opinion other than their own.
These are not the most powerful or the most important, but they are the closest family. And I was not invited. I had been excluded, as always.
Enyo, defender of Ares, sits by him. No doubt they have my mother’s ear. In her female form, Eris lounges back in their seat with their feet propped up on the table. They are watching the blackbird they have seen fit to bring to the meeting, no doubt to demonstrate their contempt for proceedings.
Hebe? Why is she here? She is so beautiful. I sometimes think I might find her more beautiful than my wife. It is such a shameful thought, but her youth reminds me of all I have never had. She sits with her elbow on the table, her head tilted and supported by her hand, listening. Eileithyia? Goddess of Childbirth? What can she add to these proceedings? Is someone to be born? Perhaps she has been elevated to a grander role, though she always said there was no role more significant than bringing life into the world. She sits with her chair pushed back against the wall, away from the table, her arms folded.
One who I do not recognise sits with a cup of coffee in front of her. I sense it is Moxie. It seems she has a new host. Beside her sits Nike. It hurts that even these adopted deities are more family than I am.
There are others. They are all my brothers and sisters, but not just that, they are all the children of Hera and Zeus. Why are they assembled? What plan has Ares produced that requires their presence, and only theirs?
There is an audible noise as I land on the carpet of my father’s office. All turn to look at Trismegistus and me.
Eris lowers their head and pulls their, surely unnecessary, sunglasses down onto their nose so they can examine the scene. Ares sits up straight and moves his hand towards my mother’s, though she withdraws it and stands up before he reaches her. As they all move, my father puts out his hand and motions for them to stay where they are. His eyes remain locked on mine as he slowly stands, adjusts his suit, and approaches.
I can hold my temper no longer and point at Ares. “I will butcher you, betrayer!”
My father ignores me and says softly, “There will be no murder here today, Hephaestus.”
“He is behind this! Usurper! Deceiver! No more will I remain silent!”
My father keeps his eyes locked on mine, even as he motions to Ares to stay where he is. “Hephaestus, my son, tell me what is going on.”
I am to be blamed? It was ever so! “Ask him! Ask your son! Ask him what he has done! Vile wretch! I will kill him! I care not for the consequences!”
Trismegistus remains silent. He appears to be struggling and is shaking. Perhaps he is having trouble maintaining his presence.
Enyo sees fit to add her voice, and I can hear her anger. “We can see who is behind this! I said it was so!” She and Ares are as bad as one another.
Eris leans back, addressing the ceiling. “He is no longer among us. It cannot be so.”
They blame me! I knew it! What conspiracy is this that Trismegistus has exposed?
Enyo snaps at her. “Isn’t he? Ask Thanatos! Ask him who is no longer among us! Let him swear it is so!”
I am confused. What does Thanatos have to do with any of this?
My mother appears by my father’s side. How can she not understand? I remember when I asked for her help when Ares and my wife betrayed me. I remember her sympathy, but she said there was nothing to be done, that things were what they were. Mother, why could you not help me? Why do you still leave me alone? Can you not understand my pain, my loss? Can you not approach me? Why can I not be with you? But I cannot say any of this to her.
My mother says, “Hephaestus, you must restrain your anger. You do not understand.”
She believes I am stupid, that I am still a child. “I understand enough! I always understood! Now he confines me, and you will not act! Ever your favourite, Mother! How long must I suffer for it?”
My mother looks confused, and my father steps in front of her. “Hephaestus, be with us. Be calm.”
My father. The man who threw me to Earth. I know he felt he had cause, my presence and appearance offending him. I know that at the time he felt his reasons were valid but were they really reason enough? How could he have cast me out for so long? And now again! “I will not be calm! When will he be punished? Throw him from Olympus! Let him be cast out as I was!”
I release my anger. Directing it towards the table instead of my family is the only concession I can make. I melt the metal in the screws and the brackets. They fall to the floor as molten liquid, hissing as they hit the carpet. The table collapses with a crash, depositing some of my siblings on the floor. Moxie’s coffee falls and the cup bounces, sending her drink pouring out. Eris’s feet remain in the air as if the table is still in place. They look at the scene, moderately interested
Ares stands. “Enough, Hephaestus!”
How dare he address me? “No, I will decide when it is enough!” I point at him. I could do more. I will do more.
Trismegistus is on his knees, his head touching the floor as he chants.
My mother looks at him. “Husband, is this the cause?”
My father doesn’t look at her, remaining focussed on me. “No, this is more than sorcery.”
“I said it! He is among us! Ask Thanatos!” Enyo demands.
“Hypnos is dead,” my father says with quiet clarity. He then speaks so softly to me I can hardly hear him. “Hephaestus, you do not have all of your memories, remember? You must consider if that is affecting how you remember things. Be with us, Hephaestus.”
More trickery. Hypnos? It is Ares who is responsible for this. All of this. It was always Ares.
My mother looks at me. That cannot be a tear in her eye. It cannot. My mother does not cry, and certainly not for me. “Do not speak to me of favourites, Hephaestus, only speak to me of my children. You are my child.”
She offers me her hand. Why does she defend him? She touches my shoulder, and my father jumps, expecting something to happen, but nothing does.
Trismegistus cries out and rolls over in agony, chanting something through gritted teeth. He is holding me here. My mother’s hand, her pleading eyes. She doesn’t want me to kill her son, her favourite son. That is why she shows me love. I look at Trismegistus as he lies writhing and muttering.
None of it matters. I cannot save them from Ares. Why do I even try? “Trismegistus. We must return.”
He nods gratefully and stops his whispering. I see my father draw himself up straight, determined. I see my mother’s concern. “No, Hephaestus!”
A white flash returns me from whence I came.
There is silence. Wherever I am, they are not here. Perhaps I should stay. How could it be worse?
Trismegistus returns to his feet and says, “The time has come, Hephaestus. You must remember.”
Why should I want to remember? Perhaps I should ask him to remove all of my memories instead. He touches my arm, and I hesitate before nodding. A flood of memories nearly overwhelms me. It feels as if something in my mind has opened and is continuing to unfurl.
There is falling and heat and arguments and invention and labour and so much more.
I see my mother, so often sympathetic. She would speak to me as her child, her son. Her love. I did remember some of it, but now I remember all of it. She holds me and laughs. I see her sacrifice for her child. I see the limits of what she would do for me and the heartbreak and the regret and the attempts to make things right. I see it all. Hera, my mother. Millennia of bitterness are stripped away, diluted by the hidden everyday truth. She loves me. And there can be forgiveness for both of us. For what else matters? What can matter more than her love?
Then I hear a laugh, but not my mother’s. It is someone else. Now it is as if something is passing into me from Trismegistus. The memory twists and changes, and everything is different. The first memory fades, like a dream I cannot remember, that I cannot hold on to. Where is she? Here. Here she is. She scolds me. She screams. I tell her about Ares and my love, and she does not sympathise. She laughs. No. No, that did not happen. I cannot remember what happened. I remember her scorn. She says Aphrodite was better off with him. No. No, she did not say that.
There were other memories. Different memories, but I cannot see them now. She says she arranged for my wife to be with Ares. There was no love from her. She calls me a monster. She wishes I had not been born. A monster. She was a monster. She told Father to cast me out, to throw me to Earth. What? Is that true? Was that what happened? I remember she did not approve. I think I remember that. No. She rejected me.
A new memory. It was because I was ugly because I was not what I should be. She rejected her own son. Where was the love? Why did they not love me? I remember all this. I think. Hate and snarling and contempt. There was always love for Ares. My mother! My own mother! These memories. What are they? They are scouring everything else. Who is laughing? It is not my mother. Hypnos? Is that who is laughing? Who is Hypnos? I knew once, but I do not know anymore. Whoever it is, I feel they are on my side. Not like my family. They used me. It is always Ares. The usurper. The enslaver. He confines me. I must leave.
Trismegistus collapses into a heap. My memory feels complete, and I understand. I understand it all now, and I know what I must do. It is clear now that my memories have returned. How could I have been so blind?
I am alone in the darkness while Trismegistus recovers. He begins to fade but manages to sustain himself. He is weakened while I am reborn. I have changed. Now that I know the truth, things cannot be the same. I know who my family truly are. I know who my parents are. They are deceivers. They have rejected me.
Trismegistus eventually manages to stand up. I do not know how long it takes. I find it hard to judge time in this place.
“Hephaestus. Your memories are restored now?”
“Yes. I felt them pass from you to me.”
He looks troubled. “No, nothing passed from me to you. The memories were within you. It should just have been a matter of unlocking them.”
No matter. I must leave this place. “How do we get out of here?”
“I am unsure. Whoever made this place was very powerful.”
Indeed. But I sense I will be able to leave it soon, and when I do, I must decide what to do about those in my family who have wronged me.