The room was dark, despite the sun shining just outside the walls of Zeus’ hall on mighty Olympus. The only light came from small flickering lamps burning olive oil. On a chaise lounge, I could just make out the limp body of Deimos. Phobos immediately dropped to his knees next to his brother.
“Deimos, what is it? Deimos, what has happened to you?” Phobos grabbed Deimos’s bare arm and gave it a rough shake. The god’s eyes didn’t flicker open. He looked like a statue curled at the moment of death.
“He appears to be stricken with some malady, Phobos. His servants found him like this. I’ve tried to reach Ares but he is not here. I’ve asked Hekate to come,” Hermes said, and I turned sharply toward him. Since when was Hekate at Olympus?
“The Goddess of Magick is on Olympus? I thought she had not been seen in some time,” I said with as much indifference as I could muster in my voice. The last thing I needed was that particular Goddess nosing around in this business.
“Good, bring her immediately, Hermes. My brother needs…help.” I could tell the last word was said with hesitation. Deimos and Phobos weren’t the kind of beings who needed help…from anyone.
I pulled away slightly, staring at the windows draped off with linen cloths to shield out the sunlight. Would Hekate be able to tell the source of the curse? Surely, her magick didn’t reach to the other gods, the gods who lived in the dark caves before there was a Greece or Troy or Carthage or Rome, before there were humans who told the stories of the Gods of Olympus.
“The Lady comes,” Hermes said, pulling away from Deimos’ bedside to make way for Hekate. In the dim light, she strode into the room in a swirl of deep blue.
“What is the matter, Hermes? Why have I been summoned?” She gazed across the room, looking through me as a pane of glass.
“Lord Deimos is stricken. None can wake him. We fear he suffers from some magickal ailment, as no mortal illness can cause this.” Hermes gave a quick nod of his head and vanished through the doorway, leaving the three of us alone with the crumpled and still Deimos.
“Phobos, did your brother leave Olympus? Tell me what you know.” Hekate knelt beside Deimos, grasping his hand, turning it upward. She traced the curves of his palm with her finger, slowly tracing each inch of skin.
“No, he hasn’t left the palace. He was fine last night, not a thing was wrong with him. Ask the women he bedded for the night.” Even at a time of worry, he couldn’t resist bragging about his brother’s exploits. Phobos watched the Goddess methodically move her fingers across Deimos’ hand and I could see the flicker of impatience on his face. He wanted answers now.
She paused her tracing over the base of his ring finger, tapping so lightly that I could hardly see the movement in the dark. Her brow crinkled and her eyes closed.
“Deimos has been cursed. I feel it.”
“That’s impossible!” Phobos roared, startling a servant who had poked her head in the room briefly. I heard the amphora shatter on the floor and turned in time to see the red wine splatter her white gown.
“It will take me some time to determine the source. This magick is old, but as with all magick, it leaves its tell-tale mark. We will know who has cursed your brother, mark my words.” Hekate waved over the servant girl and whispered in her ear. With a nod, the girl was gone.
“I will have revenge on whatever being thought they could curse Deimos. By the Furies, I will have vengeance.” Phobos glowered in the darkness and I could hear the sound of his sword sliding slightly from its sheath.
“Once I have my things, I will determine who is to blame, Phobos. Have faith. You should try to find Ares. He will wish to know. You, Lyssa, now is not the time for visitors.”
So she had noticed me, at least enough to dismiss me. That suited me fine. I needed to plan.
“Phobos, give your brother my best when he wakes. I will leave so as not to disturb Hekate’s work.” With a slight pat on his steely arm, I brushed past the pair and stepped over the broken pottery shards still lying in the doorway. I needed water, I needed to get away from here, and I needed a plan.
Back in Rome, I paced the atrium floor, sipping from a goblet. What could tie me to the Sorceress? Gorgyra could tie me to her. That was a problem. I cursed myself for using the nymph; clearly, despair had clouded my judgment. She was a loose end I would have to deal with. Setting down the goblet on a stone ledge, I clapped my hands and a crow flew down into the atrium.
“Take a message to Gorgyra, nymph of the Underworld. She may be near Olympus. Lyssa commands her to appear. Go.” The bird took flight, a speck of black against the brilliant August morning sky. The link between us must be severed. If Hekate could discover the witch, the trail would lead back to me like a string of dark pearls. Of course, if the witch could be found. What if she couldn’t?
“Sinnio?” I called out, knowing he was always within earshot of me.
“Yes, Domina?” His voice calmed my nerves. I wasn’t alone.
“When Gorgyra arrives, if I am not back, tell her to wait for me. She must wait, Sinnio.” I knew he nodded without even looking. I took a last sip from my goblet and headed toward the large wooden doors leading toward the Via Flaminia and away from Rome. I was heading for Pompeii.
“Greetings, Lady.” Julia Falco stood for me as I entered her atrium. I heard the scurry of servants’ feet on the tile, rushing into the shadows of the house.
“I must speak with you,” I said, coming closer to her. It wasn’t even noon but she had a meal laid out before her. I could smell the olives and figs, the water with a squeeze of lemon, a plate of roasted pork nestled next to a carving knife.
“I trust all is as you wished it. The curse has been successful?” She smiled and waved me toward a seat. I stood next to the table.
“The curse has worked, yes. But what trace does it leave? I must know if the source can be discovered.” Julia was shaking her head and smiling again before I even finished speaking.
“Inscrutable are my gods. None shall trace the origin, Lady. Have no fear.” She gestured again for me to sit. Clearly, she wanted to commence her own meal.
“Not even the Queen of Witches, Hekate?” I saw the color drain from the old woman’s cheeks but she said nothing. My hand traced the surface of the stone table, fingertips touching each crevasse just as Hekate had traced Deimos’ palm.
“I do not think she will discover anything, nothing that leads to you…or me.” Her voice lacked conviction and my hand slid closer to the platter of pork.
“That, I fear, is not good enough. Nothing must connect me to this curse. Do you understand?” Julia Falco nodded, and I saw that she now held the edge of the chair to steady herself.
“You did not say that Hekate might be involved. Had I but known…” Her voice cracked and she left the rest of the words on her lips. Had she but known, she would never have accepted the commission.
“I did not know she was at Zeus’s beck and call, but what is done is done. What we do now is what matters.” My hand grasped the carving knife and Julia’s knuckles were white against the chair.
“Goddess, I will say nothing. I promised you, not a word will pass my lips. I swear upon my gods.” Her breath was ragged and her eyes were wide with fear. I smiled to put her at ease.
“Julia, I know you will not share our secret. You won’t speak a word of it.” I smiled again and stepped closer to the old woman, knife in hand.
“Lyssa, I received your message. I was able to slip away because it is pandemonium right now. You wouldn’t believe it!” Gorgyra was breathless as she strode into my atrium. The sun bore down on us, high noon.
“I would believe it, Gorgy. Let me guess, Hekate has discovered the source of the curse.” The nymph stood before me and nodded.
“She knows, Lyssa. She knows it was a human and she knows it was one who worshipped other gods. Her coven of witches told her of a Sorceress in Pompeii and she is headed there now.” I could hear the fear in Gorgyra’s voice. It sounded exactly like the voice in my own head. Instead of showing her that fear, I smiled broadly and gestured for her to sit.
“Let the Queen of the Witches look under every stone. She won’t learn a thing.” I gestured toward my own noon feast; a platter of grapes and apples, a round loaf of bread, a small covered dish. Gorgyra sat down slowly, watching me closely.
“What have you done?”
“Took care of a loose end. The Sorceress shall tell no tales. The road ends in Pompeii.” I lifted the lid on the dish and picked up a small knife to spear the flesh roasted and sliced on the gold plate.
Gorgyra gave a small gasp and I nodded. Her eyes stared at the human tongue sitting on the plate.
“Let Hekate find her corpse. Even the dead won’t be able to speak to her now. Even if Hades himself questions her, she will have nothing to say if we eat the flesh. Dig in Gorgy. If I am found out, so are you. We are a pair in this escapade.” With a spear of the knife, I lifted the dark pink flesh to my lips and took a bite, focusing on the flavor of rosemary and salt instead of the meat itself.
“Olympus will have revenge, Lyssa. Even if they cannot trace the curse beyond the witch. The gods will not accept such an act. This isn’t over.” She lifted a piece of the flesh to her own mouth, revulsion written across her face. She was going to try to swallow it whole, avoiding the taste all together.
“So be it. Let all of Pompeii face the wrath if need be. As long as nothing leads back to us, it is worth it. Deimos will recover but he will know he isn’t invincible after all. That is enough. The revenge for Haimon will be served.” I lifted another chunk of the witch’s tongue to my mouth. Only four more pieces to go and we would be safe.
The sky above us, so bright only moments ago, began to dim, as if the sun itself were being swallowed up. Birds filled the wind, dozens and dozens of them, all flying together, a flock of all kinds, hawk and sparrow, dove and crow. The mosaic beneath my feet shook, a slow and angry rumble. A bottle of water crashed from the small table next to me.
“Lyssa…what is happening?” Gorgyra head bobbled and spun, glancing above and around, grasping the table that shook beside us. Sinnio and my other servants were scattering, trying to save the falling objects from the walls.
I clapped my hands and a crow left his procession to flit toward us, landing softly on the table that still rumbled beneath him. He cawed, frantic tones and flapping wings, and then took again to the sky.
“The mountain they call Vesuvius, near Pompeii, it spews and shakes and roars. He says that dark hot clouds fill the skies and the ground itself cracks.” The rumbling softened and the table stilled beneath our palms. I heard Sinnio shouting to his staff but I couldn’t make out the words. In my ears, all I heard was a dull roar.
“Hephaestus. He has awakened the mountain. Surely, this is revenge for the curse.” Gorgyra bolted up and I grabbed her wrist before she could run from the room. I had to know she was going to keep calm, or she would suffer the fate of the Sorceress.
“Gorgyra, compose yourself. Let Hephaestus do the gods’ bidding. What is it to us? We have nothing to do with any of this, remember that. No doubt Hekate has found the witch’s body. No doubt the wrath of the gods comes down on Pompeii. Neither means a thing to us. We are blameless, Gorgyra. Do you believe me?” I stared at her eyes, a pale cornflower blue most of the time; now they were a smoky azure. Fear actually made her rather pretty.
“Yes, I believe you. Of course, we have nothing to do with this. I panicked; I apologize.” She tried to smile but the corners of her mouth barely moved. I gestured for her to sit again and reluctantly, she did. The wheels of her mind were spinning, I could easily see that.
“Let’s finish our lunch and then we’ll play a game of Tabula to pass the time. Tonight, you can return to wherever you wish but for now, let us stay together, yes? We must finish eating our protection together. After this day, we never speak of this again. Do you understand me, Gorgyra? This never happened.” I speared another chunk of the witch’s tongue and handed the knife to the nymph. With a nod, she took it.
“Yes, Lyssa, as you say. This never happened. I fear those in Pompeii will say otherwise, but we are in silence together. I swear on Styx.” She had pledged an unbreakable oath and for the first time since leaving Olympus, I felt the knot in my stomach ease. It had been foolish to curse Deimos but wrath must be appeased and the thirst for vengeance slaked. I wouldn’t make such a mistake again.
“Things did not go as planned, but in the end, I am satisfied. I toast to the memory of the Sorceress, to the memory of Haimos, to the memory of Pompeii. ‘Dignitas Amicorum Pie Zeses Vivas’. Worthy among your friends, drink that you may live.”