Herakles, Part III

“Unfortunately, the sight of him covered in the lion’s skin scared everyone and the stories of his heroics grew even grander, which caused him to get a bigger head and become more insufferable. And of course, every time Alcaeus did something amazing, Zeus wouldn’t shut his big mouth about it for years!”

Nyx chuckled and leaned back into some cushions. “I’m surprised he’s lived as long as he has, Hera.” 

I let out a disgusted spit off to the side. “It wasn’t my intention, I assure you, Nyx.”

Moxie copied me and spat, causing Urania to pull her feet up under her and grumble about the amount of spit flying around.

I pulled myself together and continued, “The madness I inflicted upon him was so great that he came home and didn’t recognize his own wife’s face. What he saw was his home ransacked. His wife and sons slit from stem to stern, as Ares likes to say, and bleeding all over their dirt floor. Alcaeus was enraged. A vagabond was leaning over his dead wife’s body licking her face, so he did what any good husband would do, he ran the man through with his sword.”

“Gross! Really, Mamá? You couldn’t skip that part?” Moxie gagged a little bit.

Nike nodded in agreement with Moxie.

Dinlas hushed Moxie, “Be quiet. It’s getting to the best part.” He leaned forward in excitement. Sitting there with his elbows on his knees and chin in his hand, he reminded me so much of Ares as a boy.

Nike leaned over and whispered in Moxie’s ear, “Just like his dad.” Moxie nodded. It seems I wasn’t the only one who thought that. Dinlas just glared at both of the women. 

I winked at Dinlas. “As Alcaeus was killing this man, two more came running inside yelling obscenities at him, trying to pull him away from their dead friend. By this time, Alcaeus was so enraged he was beyond reason. He took three strides to the man in front of him and gripped his head in one hand and his shoulder in the other. Alcaeus let out a loud roar and ripped the man’s head straight from the shoulders! The body fell to the ground, and Alcaeus threw the head out of the doorway.” 

Nike’s eyes got brighter. “Did he use a sword to cut them up too, Lady Hera?” 

“He heard a noise outside and, still in a blind rage, he took his sword and killed their horses.”

“Not the horses! No!” Moxie exclaimed.  

“Ah man, that’s bad.” Urania just shook her head.

“A child of Zeus indeed,” Nyx agreed.

“Suddenly, Alcaeus started running down the road, sure he’d seen another man robbing his neighbor. Just before he got to the next home, though, Athena knocked him out with a rock and spoiled all my fun. You see, I had cursed him with a horrible madness, and gripped by insanity, he thought his wife and children were men attacking his home. Unfortunately, Athena stopped him before he killed his neighbor’s son. But when Alcaeus came too and found out what he’d done, he wailed in pain for 40 days and nights. It was one of the best 40 days and nights of my long life. Second only to my honeymoon.”

I leaned back and crossed my arms over my chest. 

“Did Uncle come for them?”

I answered her, “Yes, Nike. Hades made sure that Megara and the boys were taken care of.” 

“That’s reassuring. I wonder where they ended up.” Nyx pondered this silently for a moment.

“You’d have to ask Hade, Nyx. But wherever they are, I’m sure that they’re happy.” 

Dinlas laughed. “Man, he was nuttier than a squirrel turd!” 

“Well, Dinlas, crazy or not, I was about to be victorious. You see, Alcaeus was so distraught by what he’d done, he decided to kill himself. Now, obviously, this was exciting news for me. Finally, I was going to be rid of this fool bastard! However, his cousin, Theseus, talked him out of it. I was so mad that I couldn’t see straight, so I sent a plague to Theseus’s crops. Theseus never recovered from the blight, so I was able to hurt Alcaeus in a roundabout way. It wasn’t much, but it settled me for a while.”

Dinlas smiled at me. “He deserved it, Nana. If I had been around, I would have killed him for you.”

I returned his smile with one of my own. There is a reason Dinlas is my favorite grandchild. “Needless to say, Alcaeus went to the Oracle at Delphi to see if he could atone for what he’d done, and that bitch gave him options.” 

Nike looked at Moxie and mumbled under her breath, “Uh-oh.” Moxie nodded and mouthed, that bitch.

I continued with a slight smile aimed at my daughters. “The Oracle told him to go see his cousin Eurystheus, who happened to be the King of Tiryns and Mycenae, and one of my favorites as well, and the King would devise some labors for Alcaeus to perform for atonement. When Alcaeus stood before the King, I whispered ideas to Eurystheus. Labors that should have been too hard for Alcaeus to complete so that he would never find his atonement. My first idea was wonderful. Alcaeus was to kill the Nemean Lion! He should have failed because the golden lion was impervious to mortal weapons and its claws were so sharp it could slice easily through mortal armor!”

Urania started to look a little excited. “Action, Lady Hera. We want action.”

Dinlas turned his black eyes at Urania. “He killed a lion. I think that’s action.”

Urania just blinked as she processed that information. “Whoa.”

Nyx waved her hand absently. “Of course he did. He had beginner’s luck.”

Nike scooted to the edge of her seat. “Oh, yes, this is getting good.”

Moxie scrunched up her face and made claws with her hands. “Rawr!” Dinlas laughed and sat up straight as if to listen better.

I looked at each face in the room before continuing, “Alcaeus wandered into Mycenae and kneeled before the King. Eurystheus ignored Alcaeus until it was clear Alcaeus was uncomfortable. At which time Eurystheus told him he had thirty days to kill the Nemean Lion, and if he were successful, there would be a huge feast and sacrifice to Zeus. However, if Alcaeus didn’t return successfully within thirty days, all children under the age of ten would be gathered up and sacrificed instead. This was a huge burden for anyone to bear.”

Nyx shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “All the children, Lady Hera?” 

I nodded as Dinlas shouted, “Holy crapsticks! All of them!”

Moxie understood the burden of the labor and whispered, “No pressure.”

Nike looked confused. “What? No way! Not the children!”

I ignored the outbursts. “Alcaeus didn’t know mortal weapons couldn’t kill the lion, so he took some arrows and hunted it. When he finally found the cave the lion lived in, he chose an advantageous spot to shoot from, but the arrows just bounced off the lion’s leg. I’m sure you can imagine how annoyed the lion was at being disturbed. It roared at Alcaeus. Then Alcaeus ran and hid like a child. I laughed, knowing that I would soon be rid of him.”

“Come on, Achy, you got this. Save the kids, dude!” Nike was getting visibly nervous.

Nyx sighed. “I’m so torn. He’s such an imbecile, but the poor kids.”

Dinlas leaned forward. “Did it charge at him, Nana?”

“Eventually Alcaeus realized the lion couldn’t be killed with mortal weapons, so he sat in hiding and watched the lion for two whole weeks. I got more excited because his time was flying by without any success. I was going to be rid of this fool, and I didn’t even have to break out the big guns.”

Moxie leaned her head to the side. “I wonder if Z was protecting him.”

Nike nodded. “Regardless, he only has two weeks left. He’d better think of something quick.”

“After the long two weeks of just watching and waiting, Alcaeus finally saw that the lion’s cave had only two entrances. He took the next three days and blocked one of the entrances while the lion was out roaming. Once the entrance was closed, Alcaeus finally gathered up his courage and confronted the lion in his cave. There was a bloody battle between them. I gave the lion extra strength so that he could kill Alcaeus and the fight lasted for four whole days!” I leaned back in my chair as if exhausted.

Nyx seemed impressed. “Nice touch, Lady Hera.” Moxie and Nike nodded in agreement. 

“I had hoped the lion would outlast him, but Alcaeus was barely tired. I was livid!”

Moxie deduced quickly, “It was your boob juice, wasn’t it?” She laughed as Urania gagged.

Before the giggles got contagious, I brought them back to the story. “Alcaeus stood, straddling the neck of the lion, and took its jaws in both hands. Using his incredible strength, Alcaeus ripped the lion’s jaw completely off. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he strangled it to death with his bare hands.”

Nike jumped from her seat. “Hoorah!”

Dinlas high fived Nike. “Sweeeeeet!”

I smiled at their enjoyment. “Now, I forgot to tell you that Alcaeus had to bring the lion’s hide back to the King as proof he’d killed it. And remember, he has less than two weeks now.” I saw self-satisfied smiles on several faces. I took a moment before I finished. “Alcaeus tried to skin the lion with his knife for three days to no avail. He even used sharpened rocks he found nearby, but they wouldn’t work.”

Nyx sighed. “That’s a shame. It would have made a lovely rug.”

“If the children were sacrificed, Alcaeus would have lost Zeus’s favor and incurred his wrath. Something I gleefully looked forward to.”

Dinlas stared at me. “Not the children, Nana! You know how I feel about mistreated children.”

I ignored my grandson. “I started thinking about party themes because I knew I would win this. One way or another.” I stopped and let out a low growl. “But yet again, in comes the busybody traitor Athena and tells Alcaeus to use the lion’s claw to skin it. With her help, Alcaeus walked back into Mycenae on the thirtieth day with the lion’s skin on his shoulders. The only good thing that came from that situation was that the children were saved.” I looked around at everyone’s nodding heads. 

Nike looked relieved. “Well, that’s a great reason to cheer him on.”

“Unfortunately, the sight of him covered in the lion’s skin scared everyone and the stories of his heroics grew even grander, which caused him to get a bigger head and become more insufferable. And of course, every time Alcaeus did something amazing, Zeus wouldn’t shut his big mouth about it for years!”

Dinlas addressed me, “Yeah, I would’ve felt bad for those kids. Not that I’m rooting for Alcaeus, Nana.” 

“Regardless, Alcaeus had completed his first labor. I was sure, however, that his success was a fluke, and he couldn’t be successful twice, so I went back to Eurystheus to fill him in on the second labor.” I leaned back in my chair and laced my fingers together in my lap, waiting for my listeners to settle before I began again.

Hera (CJ Landry)
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