There really was no turning back now. Gorgyra was off, heading back to Pompeii with the lock of Deimos’ hair and the bag of money, just as requested. Sitting in my atrium, back in Rome, I watched the late afternoon shadows creep down the plaster walls.
“Sinnio, fetch me water,” I called to my servant. Ever since deciding to curse Deimos, I couldn’t seem to quench my thirst. I told myself it was the need for vengeance, that the thirst would slake once Deimos paid for what he had done. I knew it was more than that, though.
“Yes, Domina,” he replied, and his sandals shuffled against the mosaic floors to the pitcher he had stored in the shade of the portico. With a bow, he placed the goblet on the table and withdrew.
“It is done, Lyssa. The witch has everything.” Gorgyra had come silently into the atrium, startling us both. “Now, we wait. What do you think Olympus will say?”
That was the question – what would Olympus say when one of their own was stricken by a mysterious curse? “Who would have the audacity?” they would cry. “Who would risk our wrath?” they would shout. I smiled as I sipped my water.
“They will be outraged, of course. But if the witch does her job, they will never know who has stricken Deimos and life will go on, the endless party that is their life.”
Gorgyra cleared her throat, a sure sign she had more to say. I stared at her over the rim of my goblet.
“I understand your affection for Haemon – mortals can make charming pets, no? But is he…was he, worth such a risk? If this witch betrays you, all of Olympus will be calling for your head. Am I not right?”
Her words were nothing I hadn’t said to myself a dozen times since Haemon’s death, but to speak them out loud, to question me and this decision, was something I couldn’t ignore.
“Gorgyra, Deimos killed the only mortal I have ever loved. Loved, Gorgyra. And for what? A drunken brawl over a game of dice in a tavern, because a God of Olympus lost to a mere mortal. For that, Haemon was killed, with the flick of a wrist, and a slit through the throat. Even for Gods, there must be consequences.” The vision of his body, crumpled on the tavern floor, oozing blood into the stones stained my vision; whenever I closed my eyes, I saw it. Deimos hadn’t even told me himself; I had to learn about it from gossip and rumor.
“Yes, certainly, he deserves to be punished. But why not take your cause to Zeus or Hera? Other immortals have faced their wrath. I am not chastising you, Lyssa, merely asking, as your friend.”
“As if the Gods of Olympus would care that a mortal died. No, that is not the way to justice. Justice must be meted out in kind. What is that phrase that humans say, an “eye for an eye”? Yes, the only justice for Haemon is a curse on Deimos. If there are consequences, I will pay the price.” I rose from my seat and headed into the cooler dimness of my house, leaving my guest sitting in the atrium.
“Say nothing of this, Gorgyra. As my friend, I am relying on you.” I did not wait for her answer.
“You have a visitor, Domina,” Sinnio’s voice woke me from my dream. Haemon’s bloodless face had been hovering in my mind, lips moving but saying nothing. His eyes held all the accusations. Why hadn’t I been able to save him? Why hadn’t I begged Hades to release him, taken the path of Orpheus and pled for his release? Why, indeed.
“Who is it?” I shouted, rubbing the vision from my eyes.
“A courier, from Pompeii, bringing you a sealed letter. He says it is urgent and he can only deliver it to your hands.” For a moment, I had feared it was Hermes, come to drag me before Zeus.
I rose from my bed and slipped into a gown to meet the courier in the atrium. Sinnio waited under the portico, should I have need of his protection. An amusing thought, that a human man might need to guard a Goddess, but I let him stay nonetheless. I spent too much time alone as it was.
“A message, from the House of Julia Falco. I am bid to destroy it upon your reading.” The courier eyed me warily as I snatched the sealed parchment from his hands. Another human who thought he could command me.
“Begone or the parchment will not be the only thing destroyed this day. Tell your Domina that I have received her message.” I turned my back before he could protest, breaking the wax seal on the paper.
“It is done, as commanded. My Gods accept your payment but remember, there is yet a price to pay for such a command,” I murmured as I read the words, written in a spidery script on the parchment, her seal marking the bottom of the page. My fingers folded up the paper and pressed it to my heart.
“Sinnio, I am away to Olympus, I am not sure when I will return, there may be a funeral to attend. See to the house while I am away.” I swept back toward my room to change for the journey. It was too soon to dress in black but with any luck, in time, all of Olympus would be wearing their mourning colors, wringing their hands, and wailing at the loss of Deimos.
“Lyssa, what brings you to Olympus? It seems ages since you have made an appearance,” Phobos said as I entered the great hall. He had the same muscular form and brown hair as his brother, Deimos.
“Cousin, can’t I visit the family without a reason? It can’t be as rare as all that for me to make an appearance. How goes it with you and your brother?” I sat down on a bench near where he was sprawled, taking up all the space around him.
“Not so good as when Nero sat upon the throne of Rome, but there is always war to be had and the new emperor, Titus, seems willing to engage in fighting. Life is good when fear and panic are rampant. But really, what brings you from your house in Rome? You never leave there these days, or so I hear.” He took a long drink from his goblet and a trickle of wine dripped down his brown whiskers. It almost looked like blood.
“As I said, no reason especially. The city is hot, of course, and I felt like a change of scenery. I thought I would visit the Great Hall and pay my respects. Where is everyone?” The throne was empty and few were lingering in its shadowy depths.
“Who knows? I am not my family’s keeper. Deimos is somewhere about, as is Ares and Dinlas. Feel free to look about if you want to find them.” He took another gulp and rose, presumably to refill his goblet, when Hermes stormed a path toward us.
“Phobos, I must speak with you. It is your brother. He calls for you,” Hermes said, in his fawning way that I detested.
“Tell him I will come by later. I have to swing by the brothel in Litochoro first.” He chuckled as if that were something amusing to share, and I wanted nothing more than to slap the trickle of wine from his mouth.
“I fear you must come now, Phobos. He has been stricken with an affliction. Please, follow me.” Hermes turned without waiting for a response and for once, Phobos had nothing to say. We both looked at each other and hurried after Hermes to find the stricken Deimos. Apparently, the witch’s Gods had worked their dark magic. I forced the smile from my lips.