It was a cloudy day on Olympus, but I hardly noticed. After Nike’s revelations about the sudden appearance of the red poppies, I felt the need to take out some frustrations on something. So I was standing in front of an anvil, pounding and shaping a new dagger for Nike. Not sure what she had been doing lately to wear out the one she had, but I was pretty sure it had something to do with whatever was going on at the Silver Bow Foundation.
I froze. It wasn’t because someone had said my name, but who had said it. I placed the dagger in a bucket of water, put the hammer on top of the anvil before I turned around. “Is it time?” I asked.
Thanatos nodded. “You asked me to let you know.”
I sighed. “Right. Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up.”
Twenty minutes later, I was standing outside of a room in a nursing home in Ottumwa, Iowa. A nurse came towards me carrying a small tray. “Can I help you?” she asked me.
“I came to see Mr. Brooks.”
“Are you a friend of his?”
I hesitated before answering. “He saved my grandfather’s life during World War II. Business brought me to Iowa, so I thought I would come by to see him and pay my respects.”
She looked over her shoulder briefly before looking at me again. “You should go on in then. He doesn’t have much longer.” I saw tears form in her eyes, and I stepped aside to let her pass.
Than was standing at the foot of the bed, looking down at the frail man lying in the bed. “You’ll let me talk to him first?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
I pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat down. The man’s eyes opened, his head turned and he looked at me. “Oh my,” he said quietly. “It’s you.”
“Hello, Leonard,” I said, placing my hand gently on his arm. “It’s good to see you again.”
“I…I don’t understand. You look so young. Did you find the Fountain of Youth or something?” he laughed, which turned into coughing.
Picking up the glass on the small nightstand next to his bed, I held it for him while he took a sip from the straw, then put the glass back on the nightstand. “No, I didn’t find the Fountain of Youth. If I had, don’t you think I would have shared it with the man who saved my life?”
“You thanked me for that a long time ago,” he replied. He studied my face for a minute. “You have something you want to tell me, don’t you?”
“There is something you should know, yes,” I agreed. “First, thank you again for what you did that day on Omaha Beach. You could have been killed just as easily as I that day. I’ve had many men risk their lives for me, but I’ve never had anyone do what you did. Why did you do it? I don’t think you’ve ever explained that to me.”
“It was my job, Lieutenant,” Leonard said. “I was your sergeant; you were a green lieutenant fresh from training. My job was to look out for you and make sure you stayed safe. You were so eager to fight, but then again, all the kids were back then. But you were the most eager man I had ever fought beside. It was like you craved the fighting; you didn’t flinch at the sight of blood. You were a bit of a wild man. But you were also a good leader, and the men took their courage from you. It was a trait that was hard to find at the time, and I wasn’t about to let anything happen to you, or those men would have lost hope. Many of them would have ended up dead. Instead, they survived and went on to have good lives. I kept up with them all…except for you.” He looked at me closely. “You just seemed to disappear when the war was over, and I couldn’t find you. I believe it’s your turn to talk now.”
I got up, went over and closed the door, then snapped my fingers, changing my usual outfit into my battle armor, my red cape draped over my shoulders. Removing the helmet, I walked over and sat down. “My name is Ares, the God of War,” I told him.
He looked at me and nodded. “That explains a lot,” he replied. “I always knew there was something different about you, although I never expected this.”
Snapping my fingers again, the battle armor disappeared, replaced by my everyday clothes. “I apologize for not telling you, my old friend. I wanted to, but I felt it would be better to keep my secret.”
“Yeah, they probably would have thrown you in the psych ward for claiming to be the God of War,” he chuckled.
“Did you have a good life, Leonard?”
“I did,” he said. Raising his hand slightly, he gestured toward the frames on top of the dresser that was on the other side of the room. “I married Shirley – you remember me telling you about her – and had five kids. One of them died in Vietnam, but the other four grew up and had children of their own. Gave me fifteen grandchildren, and I’ve got four great-grandchildren, with another one on the way. They live all over the country, though, so that’s why they aren’t here right now. But my granddaughter, Beth, the one who is pregnant, she lives here in town. She’s coming by later to see me.”
“What about Shirley?”
His face dropped and he looked sad. “She died a few years ago, God rest her soul. I have missed her every day. Can’t wait to see her again.”
I looked over at Than, who nodded. “Leonard, there is a reason I’m here.”
“Why’s that? Does it have something to do with that creepy guy who is standing at the foot of my bed, staring at me?”
I grinned at someone calling Than a creepy guy. “His name is Thanatos, and he’s here to take you to see Shirley.”
Leonard looked at Than. “You’re Death, huh?”
Than bowed his head slightly. “Yes, sir, I am.”
“Huh, what do ya know? I expected you to have a skull head, long black cloak and a scythe in one hand.”
Than chuckled. He was dressed all in black: a black Oxford shirt, black tie, black pants and boots, and a black leather duster. He had made an effort to blend in with the crowd, instead of standing out. “You’re a personal friend of Ares,” Than replied. “I wanted to look my best.”
Leonard nodded and looked at me again. “So I guess it’s time for me to go?”
“I’m afraid so, my friend.”
He sighed. “I’m okay with that,” he replied. “It’s been a long life, but I’m tired. Are you sure Shirley will be there?”
I looked at Than, who nodded. “She’ll be waiting for you in the Elysian Fields. It’s a special place for those who have done great things in their lives. And you, my old friend, did a great thing when you saved my life. I believe it is the greatest thing someone has ever done for me, and something I am truly grateful for.”
“I was just doing my job, Lieutenant,” he said. “Will you tell my family that I love them very much, and that I am proud of all of them?”
I swallowed hard. “I give you my word.”
“Thank you.” He looked down at Than. “Let’s go. I don’t want to keep my best girl waiting.”
It was the most peaceful passing I had ever seen. I handed Than a small bag. “For his fare,” I replied, “and to make sure his place is ready in the Fields.”
“Of course,” Than replied. “I will see to it personally.”
A week later, I stood in a small cemetery as they laid Leonard to rest next to his beloved Shirley and his son. As I stood under a tree, I listened to the twenty-one gun salute and felt the tears slide down my cheeks as the trumpet played its mournful tune of “Taps”. As the crowd started to disperse, I left my spot, walked over to his grave, and tossed in a single white rose. “Thank you for your service, my friend,” I said softly.
“Excuse me?” a woman’s voice said from behind me.
I turned around to see a very pregnant young woman standing there. “You must be Beth,” I said, reaching out to shake her hand.
She looked surprised as she shook my hand and let it go. “How did you know my name?”
“I saw your grandfather shortly before he passed away,” I said. “He mentioned you. He actually gave me a message to give to all of you. He said to tell you that he loved you very much, and that he was proud of all of you.”
Tears welled in her eyes, and she brushed them away. “Thank you for telling me,” she said. “I’m still a bit confused about how you know him, though.”
“I would not be here if not for your grandfather,” I told her. “He saved my grandfather’s life during World War II.”
“Oh, I had no idea! He never talked about the War much, except for some lieutenant who was a hot head. Was that your grandfather?”
I laughed. “Yes, that was him.”
“Why don’t you come and have dinner with us? We’d really love to hear the stories about the two of them, if you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind at all. He was a good man, and I would be honored to spend time with his family.”
As we walked away, I looked back and saw Leonard standing near his own grave, looking very much like he did all those years ago: young and tough, with a grin on his face. He was holding the hand of a beautiful woman, who smiled at me and waved. A younger version of Leonard stood on his right; his son who was killed in Vietnam, I surmised. I stopped, turned around, and gave Leonard a salute, which he returned. Then the three of them faded and blew away on the gentle breeze.
From Ares’ scribe: To those who have served, I am very grateful for your service. This was written for my late father, who served in Vietnam and came home to live a long, happy life, and his great-uncle, Lt. James Leonard Davidson, who was killed at the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. Thank you all.