“The events of this labor are a little vague, as I was otherwise occupied at the time, but essentially it boiled down to this. Alcaeus met with the centaur Pholus. As they shared a fire and a meal, Alcaeus convinced Pholus to open a bottle of wine he had gotten from Dionysos.”
Dinlas grinned. “Uncle Dion. His stuff has a kick to it.”
“You’re right. The smell of the wine drew other centaurs to the fire, and they got drunk. In a drunken stupor, they attacked Alcaeus. Sadly, he ended up killing a lot of them and not the other way around. I was very mad. Alcaeus used the poison arrows he’d gotten from the hydra. Do you remember him dipping his arrows into the hydra’s blood?”
Nike and Dinlas spoke over each other. “Oh yeah. The arrows…”
“I didn’t get back to Eurystheus until after Alcaeus brought the boar to him, but I heard Eurystheus was so afraid of the silly thing, he made Alcaeus get rid of it. At this point, I was starting to get embarrassed by Eurystheus’s weakness.”
Moxie shook her head in disgust. “I bet.”
“But I am a goddess who sees things through. I’m sure this will surprise you all, but I am very stubborn.” I winked as everyone burst into laughter. My sister, Demeter was the loudest. “So I told Eurystheus to send Alcaeus to clean the stables of Aurelius. The catch was, he had to do it in one day. Are you all familiar with the stables?”
Moxie shook her head, but Nike nodded. “Yes, it’s pretty bad in there.”
Dinlas gagged slightly. “Ewww, mucking stables.”
Moxie laughed. “Probably as bad as Hephy’s bedroom.”
“Now, at the time, it had not been cleaned in over thirty years, and over one thousand cattle lived there.”
Nyx stood up and stretched. “It’s getting late. Blessings of the night, everyone.” She waved as she left. The girls smiled and wished her a good evening.
“Alcaeus had gotten Augeas to agree to pay him in cattle for cleaning his stables, but Augeas found out that Alcaeus was supposed to clean the stables as one of his labors anyway. So when Alcaeus approached him for his payment, Augeas refused! As a side note, Alcaeus went back a few years later and killed Augeas because of that.”
Moxie curled her legs underneath her. “But, Mamá, how did he do it?”
“Again, he had to have gotten assistance because that fool was not smart enough to come up with an answer so clever on his own. He ended up rerouting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to wash out the filth. However, when he came back to claim he was finished, Eurystheus told him that since the rivers did all the actual work and he got paid for this labor, it didn’t count. So we added another one for Alcaeus to complete.”
I got up and took my time to make myself another tea, giving everyone a break to chat or stretch or absorb the story. I turned and looked around the room at the gathering of gods and goddesses and felt a sense of pride. Zeus may have mandated their return to the mortal realm, but they each figured out their own way to become relevant. I sipped on my tea for a few more minutes when Nike looked over at me.
“Are you done, Lady Hera? I thought there was more.”
I smiled and made my way back to my seat, placing my mug on the table beside me. “There are seven more labors, little one. I was just giving everyone a break. An intermission, if you will.”
She smiled. “Oh. Okay.”
“Now, for my sixth labor, I had an ace in my pocket. My son, Ares! I told Eurystheus to have Alcaeus kill the Stymphalian birds. Now, these birds are favorites of Ares, and everyone knows he gets his temper from me.” I smiled proudly.
“War!! What is it good for? Absolutely everything!” Nike cheered, and Moxie giggled.
“Now the birds were having fun over Arcadia, destroying crops and trees. They were violent creatures, eating and killing the townspeople, but yet again, the traitor Athena swooped in to save the stupid hero!” I twisted my lips in disgust.
“Muscles and brawn, but no brain.” Nike shook her head.
Dinlas leaned forward. “I thought he had to do this stuff himself?”
“As did I, Dinlas, as did I. He was supposed to, but Eurystheus only discounted the labors when he had mortal help.”
Nike looked a little disappointed. “The gods always help the ones they want to help.”
“Athena gave Alcaeus a rattle that, when he shook it, would scare the birds out of the swampy area so that he could shoot them down with his poison arrows. My poor Ares was inconsolable for years over those birds. I still don’t know how or why he didn’t kill Alcaeus for what happened. He didn’t like talking about it.”
“Dad’s certainly killed people for less.”
Moxie laughed and said, “I bet he was all hung up on Aphrodite!”
Dinlas high-fived Moxie and they laughed.
“I assume you’re both quite done?”
Dinlas hung his head. “Yes ma’am.”
I softened my face and nodded at Moxie before continuing. “Now, do you all remember the story about King Minos and the white bull he was supposed to sacrifice to Poseidon? Poseidon agreed to send the bull with the understanding that Minos would sacrifice the bull to him. Simple, right?”
A couple of my listeners just nodded in agreement, but Moxie said, “Not where gods are involved.”
Nike sighed. “Nothing’s ever easy.”
“Well, Poseidon out-did himself and sent a magnificent specimen, and Minos decided not to sacrifice the bull.”
“Oh, not good. Especially when you live on an island.” Dinlas leaned back and just shook his head.
“So Poseidon had Aphrodite make Minos’s wife fall in love with the bull. She ended up pregnant, and that’s where minotaurs come from.”
Nike frowned. “What’s this have to do with Herk?”
“I’m getting there, little one. After the curse on Minos’s wife, the bull started wreaking havoc within Crete. It would dig up crops and break down walls.”
We were interrupted when my husband poked his head in to see what was going on. I smiled. “I’m glad you could make it. Now sit and be quiet, my love.”
Nike got up and ran to give Zeus a hug before sitting back down. Zeus dug around and got a mug of ambrosia before joining everyone.
Dinlas laughed suddenly. “The bull was probably mad because he wasn’t getting enough sex.”
“Probably!” I joined in his laughter.